Giving prizes to those who use evidence well is one of the ways that we can incentivise and normalise informed decision-making in many areas of policy. So earlier this year we were pleased to partner with the Faculty of Public Health to create the Bazalgette Professorship. This new award was conceived to recognise public health researchers who have succeeded in having an impact on policy or practice for the benefit of UK population health.
The award’s first winner is Ian Roberts, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. At a special event last week, attended by the great and the good of the medical world, Ian explained how his research on tranexamic acid – a drug which slows the breakdown of blood clots – changed the way that patients with acute severe bleeding are treated. But the journey from research to practice wasn’t straightforward; over the course of a fascinating hour he shared the lessons he hopes that others can learn from when trying to get research used.
In Ian’s case, the findings of his research, the CRASH-2 study, were jaw-dropping. A randomised controlled trial involving over 20,000 trauma patients in 40 countries showed that the use of tranexamic acid would save 130,000 lives each year, in hospitals alone. But, as Ian discovered, even the most compelling research findings don’t automatically result in changes to policy. Rules around drug licencing and clinical guidance, the interests of pharmaceutical companies, and the non-rational nature of human decision making all had to be tackled.
Over the following years, and on a very modest budget, Ian and his colleagues employed a wealth of creative means to get tranexamic acid used by trauma clinicians. Some were brilliantly simple, such as the animation made by his teenage nephew which went viral, and some ingeniously subtle, such as getting the drug mentioned in BBC’s Casualty. After the team highlighted the relative risk of an assassination attempt on world leaders, President Obama’s doctor included the drug in White House Medical Unit treatment protocols. In one way and another these were all about telling stories; trying to make the message relevant, relatable or memorable. As we discovered in our Science of Using Science project, this supports the take up of research by creating an emotional connection with the audience.
Throughout the lecture we watched video clips and images of patients, we heard about the life of Utako Okamoto, the indefatigable Japanese woman who discovered the drug in the 1950s and dedicated her career to getting the drug used in the treatment of postpartum haemorrhage. We saw, through a demonstration involving spaghetti, scissors and tomato sauce, how blood clots work. And what thousands of saved lives looks like when each person is represented by a grain of rice. Ian knew that we in the audience needed to hear these stories just as much as anyone to bring his research to life.
The idea for the Bazalgette Professorship – Champion of Evidence Award was generated by Jonathan Shepherd, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Cardiff University and honorary fellow, Faculty of Public Health. Read Jonathan’s blog on the reasons why the award was established, in commemoration of Sir Joseph Bazalgette.