LONDON — Complementary and alternative medicine remains the poor relation in the US biomedical community — a budget request of $113 million for fiscal year 2003 compared with $27 billion for the National Institutes of Health as a whole — but as neural imaging, molecular biology and clinical research begin to probe its secrets the promise of a brighter future for the field seems for the first time to be at least plausible.

Yet the path to that future will not be straightforward, as findings presented at a special session on the subject at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston this week showed. The placebo effect, for example, seems now to be more complex than previously thought, at least in the case of Parkinson's disease. And researchers have developed a model mechanism that explains why St John's Wort, taken as a herbal remedy for depression,...

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