Women's College Research Institute

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Scientists call for increased value and reduced waste in biomedical research

Health research has led to significant global health improvements. But according to an international team of researchers co-led by Dr. An-Wen Chan, Phelan scientist at Women’s College Research Institute, many more important discoveries could be made if the research community addressed inefficiencies in the way studies are designed, carried out and reported.

Dr. An-Wen Chan

On January 8, 2014, Chan and his team co-led a series of papers in The Lancet that set out some of the most pressing issues in health research and provided recommendations on how to increase value and reduce waste in research. The papers were also presented at a public symposium that day, sponsored by the UK Department of Health and The Lancet.

“Over one hundred billion dollars of research investment are wasted globally every year,” says Chan. “But much of it is avoidable. Our series of papers documents the extent of problems at each stage of health research – from choosing the right research question to the way a project is designed and reported – and proposes systemic solutions that target funders, policymakers, journals, research ethics boards, regulators, and other stakeholders.”

Chan co-authored the introductory paper and was the lead author on a paper addressing the inaccessibility of research information.

“The main message of the paper that I led is that the research community and healthcare professionals have access to incomplete and biased information about research studies,” explains Chan. “Half of all health research is never published. We need to establish mechanisms to fix this problem because it not only wastes research and healthcare dollars, but more importantly, it jeopardizes patient health.”

In his paper, Chan describes how many studies don’t get published, especially when they show negative results. When studies do get published, access to them is often restricted and costly, and scientists often leave out key details about how their study was done. As a result, scientists and funders are not fully informed about what research should be done and how to do it; doctors may also unknowingly prescribe ineffective or harmful interventions to patients.

“In my paper, we put forward three recommendations for increasing access to research information,” says Chan. “We call on stakeholders with enforcement power – academic institutions, funders, journals, sponsors, research ethics committees, policy-makers and regulators – to implement incentives and standards that will encourage scientists to fully share and report their studies. This will reduce the waste of resources and bias in health research and improve patient health worldwide.”

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