Mark Nelson, Professor, General Practitioner

Professor Mark Nelson

General Practitioner

Chair of the Discipline of General Practice

The University of Tasmania

I've always had an interest in knowledge and new knowledge, and that's what clinical trials provide us with. I think it is more curiosity driven. Passion gets you interested, however curiosity keeps you going. I want to know what I can recommend to my patients, and that's what clinical trials do. They give you very reliable information that you can objectively give to patients or to the general community about whether something works or not.

I am currently a principal investigator on the ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) randomised control trial. It is a huge trial of over 19,000 participants worldwide, 16,700 of which are in Australia. Patients are either put on an active drug which is 100mg of aspirin or a placebo.  The trial started out as a cardiovascular prevention trial. However we are also looking at other possible benefits including preventing dementia and cancer, specifically colorectal cancer, and thus it is now more a healthy ageing study.

We received the initial grant from the Heart Foundation which then allowed us to go to the National Health and Medical Research Council to apply for a project grant.  We were awarded a grant of $3.6 million, which was the largest project grant awarded at that time.  We could then approach the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the USA, leveraging off the NHMRC grant to say that our peak research body supports this, and as a result successfully obtained a grant of $50 million US dollars.  I believe this was largest grant that had ever been given to international investigators!  NIH were initially a little concerned given the size of the grant so they came over to Australia and went right through the quality of our data and our systems. They were very reassured about our quality collection of data and the fact that we could recruit people in the specified period of time.

I think there's no doubt that Australia is seen as punching above its weight. We publish relative to our population, probably twice as much as what you'd expect. The Americans now are talking to us about doing further clinical trials. They're coming back to us because they don't see that anyone else does it any better.