Acclaimed Doctor in Mind-Body Research Joins UA

By Innes, Stephanie | AZ Daily Star, March 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

Acclaimed Doctor in Mind-Body Research Joins UA


Innes, Stephanie, AZ Daily Star


You'd have thought it was a rock concert, not an arthritis lecture.

The University of Arizona's Living Healthy With Arthritis was packed with 370 people early on a Saturday morning last month. More than 50 people couldn't get in.

A similar talk at the Arizona Inn a few weeks later quickly sold out. A third lecture with the same keynote speaker at Tucson's Festival of Books this month was standing room only.

Dr. Esther Sternberg, an international star in mind-body research, is a scientist who draws a crowd.

Sternberg, recently hired by the famed UA Center for Integrative Medicine, applies hard, evidence-based medicine to quantify how emotions affect the immune system. By measuring physiological responses, she's using scientific rigor to show how stress makes people sick, and the way activities like prayer and tai chi can make them well.

Part of Sternberg's draw is that she shares a very personal story about how she became open to concepts about the brain that, as a scientist, she once avoided.

The UA spent nearly two years recruiting Sternberg to Tucson from Maryland, where she was a leading neuroimmunologist at the National Institutes of Health. She's now the first-ever director of research at the local integrative medicine center, which was founded by author and holistic health expert Dr. Andrew Weil.

Integrative medicine combines alternative health strategies like meditation with mainstream treatment. The UA center is relying on Sternberg to give the field something it desperately needs - scientific proof that it works. Her job is to quantify the effect of mind-body interventions ranging from acupuncture to a daily walk. If she can do that, she will be doing groundbreaking work in advancing healing strategies that some mainstream physicians have dismissed as hocus pocus.

"We really need to be able to show that integrative medical care is both cost effective and clinically effective. If we don't do that, then it's not going to be able to broadly weave its way into the complexity of health-care systems," the center's executive director, Dr. Victoria Maizes, said.

"She's been working on noninvasive ways to measure people's well- being. Think about it. If someone is meditating, you can't exactly then draw their blood. Almost all of us tense up," Maizes said. "Her research is really innovative and cutting edge in terms of giving us new tools to measure people's overcall state of health as opposed to illness."

named top physician

Sternberg, a board-certified rheumatologist, is in a good position to give alternative therapies a big dose of credibility.

In 2005, the National Library of Medicine named her one of 300 female physicians who have changed the face of medicine. She's a stickler for science as the only truth.

"It feels like I am an exciting startup company in Silicon Valley," Sternberg said in a recent interview in her Tucson office. "It hasn't just started, but it has that enthusiasm and sense of commitment for the mission for getting integrative medicine into the mainstream of medicine."

Her goal is to create a tool kit for mind-body interventions by providing the scientific rationale for using them.

Sternberg was attracted to the UA Center for Integrative Medicine's focus on prevention and well-being.

"That fits not only with my views, but with the view of the World Health Organization, which has defined health as far more than the absence of disease," she said. "It includes the environment. It includes social and behavioral interactions."

As Sternberg describes it, life is stress, stress is life. But by reducing stress, we can help our bodies to do their job healing.

"You can't get rid of your genes. You can't get rid of bad things that happen to you. But you can do healthy lifestyle changes and integrative approaches that can help you cope with whatever the condition is," she said.

Those interventions could also result in health cost savings. …

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