Critics say $200M gift to medical school to promote alternative therapies crosses the line

A $200 million donation has raised questioned about medical schools and the role of alternative therapies.

What can be bad about a $200 million gift to a university medical school? Critics found plenty wrong with a donation this week to the University of California, Irvine, that will promote alternative therapies.

The university this week announced the largest gift in its history, which was made by billionaires Susan and Henry Samueli to launch a new health program dedicated to integrative medicine. The donation will be used to name a first-of-its kind College of Health Sciences, which will incorporate the university’s medical school.

Critics, however, say it’s another slide down the slippery slope that allows unproven therapies into mainstream medicine and lends legitimacy to invalid practices, according to STAT.

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Steven Novella, M.D., a neurologist at Yale University who has criticized alternative therapies, told STAT the university should have turned down the money and said it has crossed a line that should never be crossed. 

But physicians at UC Irvine who will lead the new initiative told the publication the fears are unfounded. Medical schools are too slow to adopt new approaches, including alternative therapies, they said. Howard Federoff, M.D., CEO of UC Irvine’s health system, told STAT the college would never deploy an approach that would put patients at risk.

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It’s not the first time that the rise of alternative medicine has created friction within hospitals that have embraced practices from Chinese herbal therapies and acupuncture to homeopathy and reiki. The issue came to the forefront earlier this year when the Cleveland Clinic decided to rethink its alternative medicine offerings and how they align with evidence-based practices after the director of the organization’s wellness program published a blog post that reiterated the findings of a fraudulent study linking vaccines to an increase in autism. His comments sparked an immediate backlash within the medical community.