Dr Karen Best's story

Dr Karen Best is Director of Clinical Trials at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI). Watch Karen's story.


[Dr Karen Best]

There's still so many questions and what I love about being a researcher is, you know, you can look at the evidence that we have and you can see where there's gaps and it's like, okay, well, we need to know this. You can design a protocol, you can do the trial, you can find an answer and actually change the way things are done to improve people's health.

So I guess is that being able to make a difference. That is what I love about it. Yeah. You actually can see something that comes out of what you do. My days are pretty much filled with running a large trial. We're looking at fish oil in pregnancy to see if we can help prevent premature birth. So that's an Australia wide trial. We're looking at getting 5500 women to take part in that trial. It's the biggest trial in the world of omega-3 fish oil supplementation in pregnancy.

Well, hoping that we'll have some answers that can help prevent premature birth. Every answer you get, whether it shows a positive result or it doesn't show a result. It still, we've answered the question. Okay, so now we know we're looking at different area for an answer to that. I've worked in a few different areas in health. I just love the fact that we're doing something on such a large scale.

So my in my past I was a nurse and a midwife and, you know, you've got to make a difference to the families that you saw or helped on that day. Now we get to do these really big trials that could change the future for, in this case, for premature babies. I think the majority of people that agreed to take part in our trials, they actually, you know, are really happy to be a part of it. We try and make visits enjoyable for them and we get feedback from people. A lot of them. They feel like if they can help the next person that comes along and has to go through this, then they feel like they're doing something beneficial.

We try and keep appointments short. We don't make people wait. We will reimburse participants for cost of parking and things like that to try and make it easier for them. We've got some in this trial now who had a baby and joined that trial, and now they're having their second baby and have rung us up to want to join the trial and be part of it again.

There's so many excellent researchers here, but it doesn't matter if you come up with the question and design the perfect trial. If you haven't got people who are willing to take part in that trial, you won’t ever get an answer. Everything we do goes through our hospital ethics committee, so it's all safe. The risks have all been weighed up. There's, you know, that's nothing to worry about with that. They do get more regular health check-ups, which can be a benefit for some people. Things can be picked up that might not have been picked up previously.

Especially with the trials that we do with children in developmental assessments. They get a 2-hour psychological assessment. We've quite often picked up things in children that have been, you know, we've gone on to refer them to other people and I think we can move ahead without clinical trials. Everything needs to be based on evidence and things are changing all the time. Disease rates are changing. There's change in our environment. So we just have to constantly be looking for new ways to do things better. And just because something is being done the same way for however many years doesn't mean it's the right way.

There could be a better way that could shorten the length of stay in hospital or get children home sooner or a number of things. But it has to be rigorous, it has to be evidence based. It just has to be a clinical trial to get those answers. There's no other way to progress with health care. The health we have today is due to the research that's been done in the past. Everyone who goes to hospital or has someone they love go to hospital or need any treatment. You want the best care, and that all comes about by research being done to prove that is the best care.

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My career in the health sector began as a Registered Nurse followed by the completion of a certificate in Midwifery. As a midwife, I spent almost 10 years working in a large neonatal unit in Adelaide caring for premature babies and their families prior to becoming involved in research. Fast forward my career approximately 12 years and following the recent completion of my PhD, I am now an investigator on a large national clinical trial.

We are looking into the effect of omega-3 in pregnancy for the prevention of preterm birth, the ORIP trial (Omega-3 to Reduce the Incidence of Preterm birth). With more than 2700 women already generously giving their time to take part, the ORIP Trial is the largest of its kind in the world.

We are well on our way to enrolling the 5540th pregnant woman we need to be able to answer our questions regarding the relationship of omega-3 and preterm birth. Having witnessed the journey that these babies and their families endure first hand as a midwife, I feel honoured and hopeful to be a part of this large scale NHMRC funded research project. If successful, this simple low cost intervention has the potential to reduce the number of early preterm births (babies born less than 34 weeks gestation) by 12,000 annually in Australia. It will also provide the quality evidence necessary to change clinical practice guidelines that could be implemented internationally.

One of the highlights of being part of such a large clinical trial is the opportunity to work with colleagues in a number of hospitals around Australia who share the same passion for the research process and health improvement as our team from the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) in Adelaide. Improvements in healthcare does not just happen, quality clinical research is essential to ensure that advances in preventative health and new treatments for disease are based on high quality evidence.

Our research would not be possible without the often selfless act of the research participants who agree to take part in clinical trials. We need to continue to strive to make research more visible and accessible to the community ensuring there involvement in the design, conduct and implementation of projects.

I am excited for the day when the ORIP Trial is complete and we can share our findings with the world. I then look forward to the next clinical trial where we get to find answers to the next important question…

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  • Running clinical trials