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Can Tai Chi help post-cancer symptoms? ASU investigators think so.
Borrowing old methods to help a new problem of post-cancer treatment sickness.
November 30, 2015

ASU investigators are part of a group studying how Tai Chi can help ease post-cancer treatment symptoms

When the students are ready, the teachers will appear.

And they did.

The instructors came in the forms of a gray-haired Baby Boomer from California and a lean, gentle Korean from Down Under. They were standing in Phoenix’s Civic Space Park to teach a group of 15 people the healing properties of Tai Chi and QigongQigong is an ancient Chinese health-care system that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention..

Dr. Roger Jahnke asked the pack of ASU staff members and graduate students to loosen up with a repertoire of breathing techniques and slow, fluid body movements.

“See if you can feel some sort of energy between your hands,” said Jahnke, who is the director of the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi in Santa Barbara, California. “When you open your hands, see if you can open your body. Open the body and the space around the heart.”

Jahnke and Dr. Byeonsang Oh, each a renowned Tai Chi and Qigong expert, shared their wisdom outside ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus in November as part of a study piloted by Linda Larkey, a professor with ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation, testing the efficacy of Qigong/Tai Chi for improving fatigue and other symptoms — sleep quality, anxiety, depression and cognitive function — in women who have been treated for breast cancer. These and other associated symptoms can persist for months, even years, after treatment ends.  

The study, which is funded by a National Cancer Institute grant, binds Larkey and a group of other investigators from ASU, the University of Arizona, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center and Maricopa Integrated Health Systems, who believe that meditative movement such as Qigong and Tai Chi can help recovery and rejuvenation in women between the ages of 45 and 75 who are recovering from breast cancer.

Jahnke and Oh share the same belief.

“Chinese medicine believes there are energy channels in our body so when we open those up, we improve our circulation and we become healthy,” said Oh, who is a clinical associate professor at Sydney Medical School in Australia and a Harvard Research Fellow. “Qigong and Tai Chi can improve all of the symptoms from the cancer period and improve their overall quality of life.”

People leaning, possibly stretching

Dr. Byeongsang Oh leads a group
in Tai Chi movements at City
Space Park in downtown Phoenix. 

Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

This isn’t just theory; he said he has seen it work.

“We initially start with them in the hospital and after 10 weeks, the oncologist is asking me, ‘What is going on with my patients? It’s a miracle.’ I told him, ‘It’s not a miracle. We are teaching them to heal themselves,’ ” he said.

Jahnke said the healing powers of Qigong and Tai Chi is something he has known for decades, but there is an important subtext to the conversation: preventable treatment and economics.

“The statistic for this nation in terms of costs to preventable disease is, well, embarrassing,” Jahnke said. “We spend medical money on people who could be keeping themselves well at home for no additional cost. It’s odd that the most sophisticated society in the world would overlook this simple but exquisite economic idea that self-directed human beings can do all kinds of amazing things.”

ASU microbiology student Hussein Hadid, who participated in the training session, said “mindful practices” such as Qigong and Tai Chi should be incorporated in all future oncology rehabilitation programs.

“Stress does so much more to our bodies than people can ever know,” Hadid said. “It impedes judgment, it impedes our immune system and can lead to heart disease and even cancer. Tai Chi relieves that stress hormone and allows you to be in the moment.”

Being in the moment is important to Maja Pedersen, a first-year doctoral student in the College of Health and NutritionThe College of Health and Nutrition is in ASU's College of Health Solutions..

“Everybody needs a reminder to check out of the daily stresses of life and take some time away from that to connect with our bodies and become aware of what’s inside of us,” Pedersen said. “I find the type of movement in Tai Chi to be very helpful. When we think of physical activity, we have a tendency to think of straight front-to-back movement. From my experience, that doesn’t leave open [space] for a creative flow of energies in our bodies. So I’m looking forward to sharing this practice with individuals who are in great need of healing.”

Though he believes in its methods, Jahnke knows the healing abilities of Qigong and Tai Chi could take a while to implement.

"This is a no-brainer and something we've known all along, but to normalize this into an entire society — many mountains to climb."



Recruitment for the study will begin shortly, with ASU working with local community organizations and oncologists. For more information, please contact the Recovery & Rejuvenation study staff at 602-496-2329.

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Jewels of the Earth: Tallying the last pure places

Protecting an area doesn't guarantee biodiversity will thrive, ASU faculty says.
ASU researcher is helping create a global standard to ID key biodiversity areas.
International conservation effort aims to protect the jewels of the Earth.
December 1, 2015

ASU researcher helping create a standard to identify key biodiversity areas

Tucked away on the far western end of Haiti’s southern peninsula lies the remote Massif de la Hotte mountain range. It's where you’ll find the last stands of Haiti’s cloud forest.

In there live rare and beautiful creatures like the Hispaniolan giant tree frog, which looks like a large clump of moss with brimming eyes. The blunt-headed green tree snake also resides there. It’s pencil-thin, with enormous eyes and forms a silly grin when it’s agitated.

It’s also home to 13 amphibians found nowhere else and one of the last refuges of the Hispaniolan trogon, Haiti’s national bird.

Massif de la Hotte is what conservation biologists call a key biodiversity area.

They are the jewels of the Earth.

One Arizona State University researcher is working on creating a standard to identify areas that contribute significantly to global biodiversity.

Land and marine conservation is up since the 1970s, but animal extinction rates continue to rise. Scientists and government and conservation officials are discovering that slapping protection around areas doesn’t necessarily preserve what’s in them. Sometimes protected areas don’t necessarily contain significant biodiversity.

Urbanization, invasive species, hunting and pollution are all destroying the natural world — and it’s happening quickly.

“Biodiversity is being lost so rapidly across the globe,” said Penny Langhammer, adjunct professor in the School of Life SciencesThe School of Life Sciences is part of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. and affiliated faculty with ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes.

A scuba diver in the Great Barrier Reef

ASU adjunct professor
Penny Langhammer
dives in the Great
Barrier Reef off Australia,
an area whose biodiversity
is threatened.

Photo courtesy
Penny Langhammer;
top photo by James

Langhammer is co-chair of an International Union for Conservation of Nature task force charged with creating a standard for identifying important biodiversity hot spots. The IUCN is the largest professional global conservation network, with almost 11,000 scientists volunteering. Most people know it from its Red List, which usually appears in the news as a headline that something is on the verge of extinction.

“Governments are realizing you can’t just protect an area and expect biodiversity to thrive,” Langhammer said. “We hope (a standard) will be used by national governments in conservation and the private sector in improving risk to biodiversity, to ensure really important sites from being destroyed.”

The standard is for identifying areas that can be managed that maintain globally important biodiversity.

Some non-profits have already identified important sites. Bird Life International has identified 12,000 such areas. The Alliance for Zero Extinction has identified 587 sites for 920 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, conifers and corals.

“A lot of sites have already been identified,” Langhammer said. “We’re trying to fill in the blanks.”     

The standard is in the final stages of being developed. It will have five criteria for identifying a key biodiversity area.

The five measures by which sites can be measured are: threatened biodiversity, geographically restricted biodiversity, ecological integrity, biological processes and irreplaceability through quantitative analysis.

If any of the criteria are met it qualifies the area as a key biodiversity area. There must be clear reasons why the site is important. Ecosystem health will help make sites more eligible for conservation.

“We can go in and tell why it’s (an) important (site),” Langhammer said.

Ideally a site will be globally outstanding.

Professor Penny Langhammer in Samoa“Much of the world will not meet this criterion (for ecological integrity),” said Langhammer (left, pictured in Samoa). “There won’t be very many of those sites identified because the planet has been so impacted.”

Sites void of biodiversity would include rubber plantations in southern peninsular Malaysia, which stretch for hundreds of miles, or genetically modified cornfields in the Midwest, where almost nothing else lives.

Sites rich in biodiversity include the Massif de la Hotte in Haiti or Queen Maud Gulf in northern Canada, where Ross’ geese nest more than anywhere else. The upper Gulf of California, home to fewer than 50 vaquita porpoises, which are threatened by gill-net fishing, and the Northern Sierra Madre National Park in the Philippines, which supports threatened and endangered species, are positive sites, according to Langhammer.

“Not all (key biodiversity areas) will or need to be protected areas,” Langhammer said. For example, General Davis Cave in West Virginia, which holds the only population of West Virginia spring salamanders, is already owned by the Nature Conservancy.