Celebrating 10 years of revolutionary collaborative research

Research collaboratives, made up mainly of trainees and medical students, have proliferated around the country since 2007, reinventing the entire medical research landscape and providing a whole new way for medical leaders of the future to launch research careers.

Last Friday Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester hosted the 10th annual National Research Collaborative Meeting – a mini conference for collaborative members – and the creators of this revolutionary model for delivering research projects celebrated some life-saving success stories.

Alongside the NIHR, Royal College of Surgeons of England and others, BDRF is incredibly proud to have been an early supporter of their development and to have backed some of the most successful colorectal research initiatives to come out of the collaborative model.

Birmingham-based bowel surgeon Tom Pinkney, one of the founder members of the original West Midlands Research Collaborative, described these achievements as “perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever done”.

The real work is only just beginning though, and it was clear from the very first session that the successes achieved so far have bred huge ambition to deliver bigger, better studies. It’s all about saving and improving the lives of more patients worldwide by harnessing the huge power of the collaborative model. From work in orthopaedics that is challenging the status quo, to neurosurgery, geriatric medicine and of course coloproctology – so much incredible work is being done, and there’s so much more to do.

From a BDRF point of view, many projects we have supported were prominent on the day. Successful audits like NASBO and the ELF study showcased how collaboratives have a unique power to amass large amounts of vital data on how patients are cared for, which can be used to identify ways to change and improve clinical care.

NASBO lead investigator Matt Lee was swift to point out that “with great power comes great responsibility”, but it is clear that the ability of research collaboratives to collect enormous amounts of data at speed will underpin hard hitting studies that make a real difference – something that was simply not possible just 10 years ago.

No discussion of data these days is complete of course without a mention of social media, and Richard Brady, social media lead for the British Journal of Surgery and former BDRF grant recipient was on hand to explain how to harness its power for the benefit of research studies and patient care.

Research collaboratives are perfectly placed to ride a wave of social media engagement, with hundreds of collaborators in studies able to to spread the word about a research project, driving recruitment, publicity and dissemination of findings. It is a match made in heaven.

Continuing the BDRF theme, a GRANULE workshop took place in one of the breakout sessions, and in the main hall it was explained how the GRANULE training methods are being incorporated into truly vital work to reduce surgical site infections in low and middle income countries.

Finally, Professor Andrew Renehan of Manchester’s world-renowned cancer centre at the Christie Hospital discussed the everyday impacts of observational research and how looking at the numbers produces real world change. He cited the example of the OnCoRe study – funded by BDRF and published in the Lancet Oncology journal. OnCoRe has established the safety of ‘watch and wait’ care in patients who have a complete response to radiotherapy for rectal cancer – the total disappearance of their tumour – as well as setting up a registry of patients who fit the bill.

The impact of this has been many people avoiding the need for major surgery, with all the associated costs to their lives as well as the financial costs to the NHS.

At a venue whose library was once frequented by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, it was perhaps fitting that the day ended with a feisty debate on the merits of corporate authorship – where all contributors to a study are given equal recognition on a collective basis. It is an approach often favoured by the collaboratives, and is emblematic of the game-changing, almost revolutionary nature of these vibrant groups of talented young researchers.

BDRF Trustee Professor Dion Morton closed by stating his firm belief that the future leaders of medical research were sitting in the room that day, and while the debate had been hotly contested it was impossible to disagree with this sentiment.

We are simply proud to have been involved in some of the most exciting colorectal research developments to have come out of the dynamic collaborative scene, and extremely excited to continue playing our part in the future. Every one of BDRF’s donors and supporters can be delighted with the massive impact their funding has had in transforming the medical research world – and the enormous benefits that means for patients both now and in the future.

Read next article: Ileostomy sandpit captures experiences & ideas