Integrative Medicine (IM) aims to bring together “conventional” and “alternative” medicine to create an integrated approach to health and healing. Harvard Medical School is a unique environment, because it has not just one, but many centers dedicated to Integrative Medicine research and education. However, until now, there has been no concerted effort to connect these various centers and groups of individuals.
To address this disparity, The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital recently teamed up with Harvard Catalyst | The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center. Harvard Catalyst developed Profiles, a research networking and expertise mining software tool that provides not only traditional directory information, but also illustrates how each researcher is connected to others in the community. This tool helps to address one of the aims of the Osher Center—to create a “Center Without Walls” that connects HMS integrative medicine researchers, clinicians and educators. Drawing from Harvard Catalyst’s Profiles, the two organizations created a unique interactive online tool to pin-point nodes of connection between IM researchers across Harvard—the first of its kind used to connect investigators in integrative medicine.
A Question of Awareness
An initial literature search showed the Osher Center team that HMS-affiliated institutions have produced an impressive list of publications in the last decade on alternative medicine topics including meditation, mind-body exercise and acupuncture. What was not obvious from the findings, however, was: How connected are these people? To what extent do they know about each other? Although an extensive network of Integrative Medicine was obviously already present within HMS, they suspected that this network was not yet “self-aware.” They wondered if something powerful might happen if the network was able to “visualize itself.”
To put this idea to the test, the Osher Center teamed up with Exaptive, Inc. a Boston-based company that specializes in web-based interactive network visualization. Exaptive develops data visualization platforms to stimulate collaborations and creative ideas. Working with Harvard Catalyst Profiles, Exaptive created an interactive network map that now lives on the Osher Center’s website. On the map, each individual was connected to others through their joint publications and host institutions. Once the network map was built, what became apparent was striking. Over 600 researchers were linked together in a surprisingly interconnected way. This showed that the IM network at HMS is indeed already highly connected. These connections are made manifest and now easy to see for anyone visiting the web-based map.
From Virtual to In-Person
The Osher Center has since invited all the people connected on the map to come and meet in person at the Inaugural Integrative Medicine Research Forum on November 3rd, 2014 at Harvard Medical School. The half-day symposium will be a unique opportunity to turn the virtual connections identified through the online map into potential partnerships. In addition, the IM Research Forum itself will be an unprecedented gathering. For the first time, the leaders of all the various HMS-affiliated IM centers will participate in a joint presentation. This exercise will support the aim of the forum to bring together researchers, clinicians and educators with interests in integrative medicine research to find common ground, foster collaboration and start building a platform from which they can speak with one voice.
The Science of Networks
One of the themes that will be discussed at the IM Research Forum will be: “What happens to a network when it becomes self-aware?” Social networks have interesting behaviors that are the subject of fascinating research. Dr. Albert Laszlo-Barabasi, who will be a keynote speaker at the forum, has conducted pioneering work in defining the characteristics of “scale-free” networks. Scale-free networks demonstrate a different model of growth to random networks, and are often observed in all kinds of environments (social, biological, and on the internet). Their pattern of connectivity is characterized by the presence of hubs, where nodes that are already connected, tend to become more connected.
In a community such as a small town or institution, everyone knows everybody else. A network is different. An individual may not know everyone in the network, but may know someone who knows someone else, or may act as the “connector” between two or more otherwise disconnected network hubs. For the IM Research network at Harvard, seeing the online network map will help find these connections. David King, Founder of Exaptive, who will be speaking at the conference, will give examples of how such a network visualization tool can help bring about growth and innovation.
HMS and beyond
HMS is a complex and challenging environment. The more complex an institution, the more important it is to look at the network structure and understand it. The Osher Center team hopes that the combination of their web-based network visualization map and in-person IM Research Forum will help galvanize the true integration of integrative medicine at HMS.
A similar strategy could be used to support collaborations across institutions in other cross disciplinary efforts across HMS and beyond.
Click here for free registration and more details about the Integrative Medicine Research Forum.
Inaugural Integrative Medicine Research Forum
Monday, November 3rd, 2014
12:00 pm – 6:30pm
Joseph B. Martin Conference Center
Harvard Medical School
e: [email protected]
p: 617 525 8737