Healing the Rift Between Ancient and Modern Medicine

September 27, 2019

“It is very important to contribute to the understanding of how and if certain energy therapies, such as Reiki, actually work,” says Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Professor of Science, biochemist and certified Reiki master Patricia DeLeon. “They offer promise in treating diseases in a less traumatic way and also could make western medicine therapies more effective.”

With two BMCC science majors, Claudia Guerrero and Joanne Callaghan, DeLeon is conducting experiments using C. elegans lab worms and human cells subjected to Reiki treatment — and the preliminary results are warranting continued study.

“It is important to be open-minded about complementary medicine,” says Guerrero, an aspiring physician. One of her tasks in the lab is to count larvae of the worms after they have received Reiki treatment, and to calculate if there are differences in patterns of larvae production between Reiki-treated worms and those in the two control groups.

“We evaluate the results by counting the number of larvae 24 hours after the Reiki treatment, which is equivalent to the number of hatched eggs during that time lapse,” says DeLeon. “We do this for the group that received treatment, the group that receives a placebo and the control group, which receives no treatment or placebo.”

She explains that quantifying the results for each group enables comparisons between them.

“Our results, at this point, show a small but consistent increase in the number of larvae produced by the treated group when compared to the other two groups,” DeLeon says. “We are in the process of repeating the experiment so we can evaluate the statistical significance of our results.”

Tracking cellular division and building “P” value

In another phase of the experiment, DeLeon and her team are using breast cancer cells as their subject, part of a cell line obtained from a biological lab supply company. As with the worms, the cells are divided into three groups.

“One group gets Reiki treatment — hands held four inches above the cells — which I perform,” she says. “One group gets a ‘mock’ Reiki treatment performed by a student who goes through Reiki motions, and one group gets nothing.”

Using a microscope, the team tracks the rate at which the cancer cells divide. “The slower the cancer cells divide, the better for the patient,” DeLeon says, “and based on what we are seeing, the cancer cells are dividing more slowly when they get the Reiki treatment.”

In order to validate the statistical results, “We plot the number of cells versus the number of Reiki treatments. In doing this, we are seeing that the graph for the treated cells shows a smaller slope, and this indicates an overall smaller growth or slower cellular division.”

The team’s goal now is to reach what DeLeon refers to as the “P value” — “the point at which you can say, ‘This is happening because of our treatment, not because of chance.’ In other words, with enough test results to compare, you start to see patterns that indicate more than randomness.”

Skepticism meets quantified results

The lab work for this project is meticulous, even repetitive — but well worth the effort, says Guerrero.

“When I started this project, I must admit I was skeptical,” she says. “The most frustrating part is the counting. It needs to be done very carefully and it requires hours of sitting and looking through a microscope. However, all of this is worth it once we see that we are actually getting some results.”

DeLeon considers her unique perspective as both a scientist and Reiki master to be an advantage, but she is aware of the skepticism to which Guerrero refers.

“In the scientific community, reports regarding energy healing treatments such as Reiki are sometimes considered to be biased and not real — so, in general, this type of investigation is scrutinized in a more rigorous way than are more traditional science projects,” she says. “Likewise, the energy healing community is dismissive of traditional medicine and western science.”

Another challenge is that the very nature of the project makes it difficult to conduct the investigation following a strict scientific method, DeLeon says.

She explains that in a typical research project, all the equipment is calibrated under the same conditions and the number of variables can be controlled and kept to a minimum.

“But in our case,” she says, “one piece of equipment is actually the Reiki practitioner — but how do you calibrate a person? How can you make sure that the mental and physical status of the Reiki practitioner is exactly the same, each time the experiment is conducted?”

Undaunted by these challenges, DeLeon continues the research and the results continue to grow in validity.

“Having a background in both science and Reiki allows me to investigate energy healing techniques in a way that most energy healers are not able to do,” she says. “From my point of view, it is important to understand this technique and establish more uniform protocols, that are based on scientific evidence. And of course, it will benefit patients enormously if it becomes possible to apply the Reiki technique in order to compliment traditional medical treatments for cancer and other diseases.”


This article is part of the 2019 Marks of Excellence, an annual publication from the Office of Public Affairs that highlights the outstanding accomplishments of students, faculty and staff. This issue features research projects at BMCC. Please note, the stories will be posted throughout Fall 2019 as both a BMCC News version with video, and a flip-book version.


  • Professor of Science and certified Reiki master Patricia DeLeon is leading a research project at BMCC that examines energy therapies
  • With science majors Claudia Guerrero and Joanne Callaghan, she is conducting experiments using C. elegans lab worms and human cells subjected to Reiki treatment
  • Preliminary results are warranting continued study

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