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Honestly, I am quite beside myself over the launch of this new clinic, the Chicago Integrative Eczema Center. I met the co-founder, the amazing Dr. Peter Lio, at the National Eczema Association Patient Conference last summer, and he mentioned this clinic was in the works. So, I waited patiently for the launch and now that the clinic is open for business, I just want to shout about it from the rooftops!
Just what makes this clinic so special?
It combines the best of western medicine and natural therapies to treat eczema. Can it possibly get any better than that?! I am a firm believer in holistic medicine, but I also understand that western medicine can be essential at times. So, this clinic’s approach is spot on in my opinion. Not to mention the involvement of Dr. Lio, who is a highly qualified and respected dermatologist and happens to be incredibly kind and forward thinking. I have not had the fortune of meeting his partner, Dr. Ryan Lombardo, but if he’s collaborating with Dr. Lio, he must be just as wonderful.
Without further ado, please welcome Dr. Peter Lio for a Q&A about the new Chicago Integrative Eczema Center!
Q: Dr. Lio, please give us a brief background on yourself and why you chose to go into Dermatology, particularly why you chose to specialize in atopic dermatitis.
A: I have been interested in becoming a doctor since I was little, but once I got to medical school, I realized that it wasn’t so simple–there were lots of fascinating specialties to consider! Initially, I thought I was going to be a neurologist. My research during college was all about learning and memory and I found the study of the brain to be extremely compelling. However, during the second year of medical school we were exposed to a one-week lecture series on dermatology. About 15 minutes into the first lecture (given by the great teacher and mentor Dr. Charles Taylor), I was hooked! Interesting words (where else do you get to use terms like “ostraceous” and “serpiginous”?!), fascinating diseases, and lots of unanswered questions! While in other areas of medicine there were pathways, cycles and genes that seemed to explain almost everything, dermatology was wide open… there was a lot of mystery! That drew me to it and still does. Atopic Dermatitis is perhaps the ultimate dermatologic disease: on one hand, we know so much about it and can do some things to help, but we still don’t fully get it and–try as we might–we can’t seem to get to the root of it to cure it. YET, hopefully… I found lots of patients and families struggling with eczema, and I decided to dive in to learn everything I could and try to help out as much as possible. It’s been an incredible adventure so far: difficult, but deeply satisfying.
Q: How do you feel about alternative and integrative medicine as it relates to eczema? (Do you have any good recent research on treatments you can quote here?)
A: Part of what was frustrating for me was coming to terms with our fairly limited armamentarium of treatments for eczema. After I finished my Dermatology residency, I decided to study acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to see if I could gain a new perspective and open the door for new treatments. I spent a year with Kiiko Matsumoto and David Euler in Boston and completed the wonderful course called Structural Acupuncture for Physicians. It opened my eyes to many things, most importantly the reality of “energy medicine”, which is what acupuncture is on the most fundamental level. To that end, a few colleagues and I published a paper last year that was able to show some benefit for the itch of eczema–arguably the root of the disease–by using acupressure. The study can be viewed here. This led to looking into other forms of alternative medicine, and I am particularly interested in botanicals that can heal. Lately, I’ve been very excited about the anti-inflammatory effect and skin-barrier-rebuilding powers of topical sunflower seed oil. I’ve been recommending this combined with coconut oil, which is known to have some anti-bacterial properties which is also very useful in atopic dermatitis. I’ve written a few updates on some of these alternative treatments, you can view them here – part one and part two.
Q: From what I understand, you are a pioneer in the world of eczema, founding the first integrative medical clinic specifically for eczema sufferers. What was the inspiration behind this amazing idea? Was it a difficult task to achieve?
A: At the end of the day, my goal is to help patients. My thinking is that I want to take the best of every tradition to get people better. In my time of intense focus on acupuncture, I found that the acupuncture approach did some things better than the “pure” Western approach; but for other things, not so much. There was a part of me that was disappointed when a patient returned to my very talented teacher and was only a little bit better. I had secretly hoped that this was “the cure”, and that I’d find a powerful technique to zap the eczema and make it go away for everyone… It didn’t quite work out that way. But, I did see some things that were important and were being overlooked by many Western physicians. That was almost a decade ago, but the idea was planted then for me: to use some form of integrative care to help eczema patients and families. The Chicago Integrative Eczema Center is the realization of that dream. It’s been a lot of work getting things organized. I was lucky when I met Ryan Lombardo, who is a DAOM (Doctor of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine) and also very interested in skin disease. We shared a number of patients and began to meet to discuss treatment approaches. Before long, we realized that we should probably pool our resources and collaborate… and the Chicago Integrative Eczema Center was born.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with your clinic? What is the general approach?
A: The Chicago Integrative Eczema Center has 4 main goals: First, to be a trusted source of information and education about eczema that is inclusive of alternative and complementary medicine. Second, to be a place for holistic care of eczema, offering a range of treatments from a Traditional Chinese Medicine approach to the standard Western approach, and everything in-between. Third, to be a place for patient support and connections. We are closely allied with the National Eczema Association and their official Chicago Eczema Support Group, run by Erika Czopkiewicz and Nathan Jetter, two amazingly dedicated individuals. Fourth, to be a place to push the boundaries forward and learn more about eczema through research studies like the acupressure study mentioned above. To meet these goals, in addition to collaborating on patients that we see in our individual clinics, we will have combined sessions where Ryan and I will see patients simultaneously and have guest speakers with questions and answers, and I will be the medical adviser of the Chicago Eczema Support Group as well.
Q: What services will you offer?
A: We will be seeing patients and, through Ryan, offering acupuncture, acupressure, herbs, nutritional supplements and other botanical topical treatments. We also work with nutritionists, allergists, a hypnotherapist, and several other practitioners closely for when our patients need other types of expertise. Part of what we are building is a network of providers who can work together and meet the need for holistic and integrative care, which is very exciting to me.
Stay in touch with the Center:
About the co-founders of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Center:
Peter Lio is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology & Pediatrics at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Lio received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, completed his internship at Boston Children’s Hospital and his dermatology training at Harvard. He has had formal training in acupuncture under Kiiko Matsumoto and David Euler, and has held a long interest in alternative medicines. He currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for the National Eczema Association. His clinical office is located at Dermatology & Aesthetics of Wicker Park.
Ryan Lombardo received his Doctorate of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago, IL. The Doctor of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (DAOM) is the highest formal educational credential available in the field of acupuncture and Oriental medicine in the United States. Dr. Lombardo is one of 6 doctors practicing as a DAOM recognized by the State of Illinois and has been practicing acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in the Chicagoland area as a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.) and Master of Science in Oriental Medicine (MSOM) since 2003. Dr. Lombardo is a faculty member of Midwest College’s doctoral program, leading the Nutraceutical Science and Chinese Medicine Energetics curriculum. His clinical practice is located at AcuHealth of Wicker Park.