Basic Laboratory Research

Basic Studies of Acupuncture – Laboratory Experiments

Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D.
The Pacific Wellness Institute, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Dept. Acupuncture Moxibustion, Tsukuba University of Technology, Japan

Updated September 23, 2012

While the main research question in clinical trials of acupuncture is whether or not the therapy works for a particular health condition, basic studies of acupuncture aim to address the question of why and how it works.

Such studies attempt to elucidate the exact mechanisms and actions of acupuncture by conducting experiments under strict laboratory-controlled conditions.

Many basic studies are conducted using animal subjects (e.g., mice, rats, cats, or dogs); these subjects are usually anaesthetized. The subjects may be administered additional pharmacological agents to create a certain disease model.  In some experiments, the animals undergo surgical procedures such as nerve dissection, so that the neural-signal transmission pathway can be isolated when somatosensory stimulation (i.e., acupuncture) is applied.  In many basic studies, acupuncture is administered only on a single point, using a standardized stimulation method, in order to find out exactly which point and stimulation method are eliciting a particular response.

Although the results from experiments using anaesthetized animals are not always applicable to conscious human patients, highly clinically useful information has been produced through basic research experiments, especially over the last 30 years.  Elucidating the mechanisms of acupuncture is vital for acupuncture’s further acceptance as a valid, science-based therapeutic modality.