While it seems like a pretty fantastical concept, a group at the University of California San Diego just received a five-year, $10M grant to examine just that.
Specifically, the InnerScience Research Fund will support ongoing research at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine to determine the biological effects of meditation. Researchers led by Dr. Hemal H. Patel (Dept. of Anesthesiology) are exploring whether meditation can modulate the progression of serious illnesses.
From the UC San Diego Today press release (May 16, 2023):
“As part of a continuing study entitled “QUest to ANalyze a Thousand hUmans Meditating,” or QUANTUM, Patel and his team are assessing the impact of meditation on nearly 2,000 individuals undergoing intensive meditative experiences. The goal is to capture a depth of unbiased information from a large cohort of healthy and non-healthy individuals to gain insights into the impact of meditation.”
Study participants are contributing a plethora of biometric data obtained via wearable technology, “including heart rate, heart rate variability, sleep, activity and more. That data is then coupled with health survey results and “omic” studies being conducted on blood, microbiome, urine and tears.” Brain activity has also been measured and analyzed.
Perhaps the most unexpected statement in the entire press release was the following: “Early analysis is showing promising results from meditation in impeding serious illnesses such as cancer.”
This is quite an announcement coming from a highly-respected research institution, so I am particulary intrigued.
On the one hand, it’s not difficult to believe that harnessing the mind through meditation could have a dramatically positive impact on one’s health. As I reported in an older post, researchers have elucidated the biochemical pathway by which stress can lead to cancer recurrence in breast cancer survivors. So if we’re able to do the opposite–inviting in a sense of peace and keeping stress at bay–it stands to reason that we affect disease progression. After all, we’ve known for a long time about the benefits of meditation on one’s mental well-being, why not one’s physical health too?
On the other hand, it’s important to understand that meditation alone should not be considered a treatment or cure for cancer. But as my last post on complementary medicine pointed out, cancer patients are increasingly turning to practices such as meditation to help them navigate the cancer experience as they undergo conventional treatment. The added benefits of helping halt the proliferation of a tumor would make meditation an important adjuvant therapy.
This is one story that I will be keeping a close eye on!