ACPGBI 2020 – Virtual Research session highlights ‘resilience & resourcefulness’

ACPGBI’s annual conference had to take place online this year, for reasons that are now all too familiar.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on a trip to glorious Edinburgh, the event was a huge success. Dale Vimalachandran, one of the Royal College of Surgeons’ two surgical specialty leads in coloproctology, said “A fantastic session, highlighting just how resilient and resourceful the colorectal research community are. Reassures me that that colorectal research will still progress despite the challenges we face in the current climate.”

As in previous years, the conference’s research session was a standout moment, showcasing the strength and breadth of work to improve patient care going on in the UK, Ireland & throughout the world.

Proceedings opened with a powerful talk from Tamzin Cuming about implicit bias. This was one of a series of ‘TIME’ talks running through the virtual conference – brief lectures addressing the big issues in bowel disease care & how to tackle them.

Particularly fitting in light of recent events, it was clear from Tamzin’s talk that there is a huge amount of work to do, and the whole community has to rise to the challenge. For research to work as well as it possibly can for everyone – it has to represent everyone.

Dale Vimalachandran & Abi Vallance then hosted a range of video presentations highlighting the breadth of colorectal studies taking place that had been affected by the COVID19 pandemic.

While all had been hit in some way by Covid19, many had managed to keep recruiting throughout lockdown – either within the UK & internationally! Others were adjusting and getting ready to reopen ASAP. The adaptability of our research community is amazing, and means trials are in a good place despite the pandemic.

All the videos took on a different format – reflecting the incredibly diverse range of research & unique approaches to it from right across the colorectal community. There was a nod to Fleetwood Mac fans, classical music enthusiasts (Rossini of course), and above all research dedicated to improving care for patients right across the spectrum.

We then moved on to groundbreaking research results – kicked off by Aneel Bhangu – head of the COVIDSurg Collaborative. This was a rapid response from the surgical community to the pandemic, partly funded by BDRF, whose initial findings have been published in the Lancet. The data presented was stark & humbling in terms of the shocking death rates during the pandemic. However, the knowledge gained will prove invaluable moving forward – for clearing the huge backlog of delayed surgeries safely & in the event of future outbreaks.

Jared Torkington then presented the HART study on incisional hernia – ‘not as glamorous as Covid’ but a major issue, especially in bowel cancer patients. Nearly a third of bowel cancer patients were found to suffer this complication, and the case for taking action – specifically ‘prehab’ is strong.

Finally Katy Newton presented the PPAC2 trial. With initial work funded by BDRF, this trial challenged the practice of abscess packing – which was unsupported by any clinical data yet was commonplace. The results showed that abandoning this practice improved patients care by reducing pain and other complications. They should change practice and improve lives – which is what research is all about.

Then it was time to look to the future with Susan Moug – also Surgical Specialty Lead at the Royal College of Surgeons, & Nick Heywood. Another series of videos showcased the studies people can get involved in – many of them BDRF funded. Commenting on these new studies, Susan said ‘The enthusiasm for research during the pandemic has been impressive. During difficult times for many, new research questions have been asked and studies started quickly to try to provide the answer. That enthusiasm now moves into restarting and reopening colorectal trials in 2020. The ACPGBI research session advertised a wide portfolio of studies that give multiple opportunities for all stages of colorectal surgeons to participate. Please join in!’

And to close, Nick presented an analysis of the impact of the BDRF & ACPGBI Delphi initiative. This highlighted the difference we’ve been able to make by identifying research priorities and targeting these for research funding.



So ended a conference we never expected to be like this. But it showed that, despite huge adversity this year, colorectal research is as strong as ever – an inspiring thought to take into the months and years to come.