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Does Chinese medicine really work?

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has been used to treat everything from broken bones to headaches.

Chinese doctors and many of their patients are convinced of its effectiveness, but now scientists all over the world are joining forces to establish its true worth.

In a laboratory at the Hong Kong Medical School, scientists are trying to find out how the Thundergod Vine root that's been used for centuries in Chinese medicine actually helps in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Overseeing the experiments is rheumatologist, C.S. Lau who says that as a Chinese doctor, he does believe that Chinese medicine helps and can be very effective in certain conditions.

But the main problem with traditional treatments is that he doesn't know how the medicine actually works, he says.

It is this lack of knowledge that is preventing Chinese remedies from being taken more seriously by conventional medical practitioners.

While there is a lot of anecdotal evidence supporting Chinese cures, there is not enough scientific proof that the remedies are doing what the doctor says they will.

Yale University's Dr. Tommy Cheng says that it's very difficult to address the essence of Chinese medicine and so as a result, it is very difficult to properly introduce Chinese medicine to the world.

There are several factors preventing Chinese medicine from being taken more seriously.

Compared to conventional treatments, Chinese doctors often use several different compounds to treat one problem. This raises questions over exactly which chemical is doing what, and also brings problems with maintaining quality control over the drugs being used.

These drawbacks have prompted the Hong Kong government to call for the licensing of Chinese medicines in order to counter doctors who are making claims about their remedies that can't be backed up.

In a bid to help bring Chinese medicine into the mainstream and to help realize potential commercial gains, top scientists from universities in the Unites States, the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong are joining forces to collaborate research into the actual effectiveness of Chinese medicine.

Yale's Dr. Cheng says the unified approach by the universities is an exciting advancement in the field of research into Chinese medicine.

"I think we can make a very big development in the terms of future medicine development," he says.

But there is some pressure to carry out this verification process quickly.

"We really have to work very closely with traditional Chinese medicine doctors', says C.S. Lau.

"There must be hundreds, thousands, maybe more medicines that we need to work on and prove."

It is a process that will likely take many years. But the plan of the global research group is to establish the credibility of Chinese medicine to ensure its survival in the 21st century.

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