[Professor Christopher Reid]
It gives you a quite a nice feeling to think that, you know, the work that you're doing on a day to day basis will have a major impact on how well people can live, hopefully live healthier and longer. I've been working in the area of clinical trials now for nearly 30 years. All of the work's really been focusing around prevention, particularly the prevention of cardiovascular disease, which even today still remains the number one burden of disease, death and disability not only in Australia, but all around the world.
Unlike a lot of acute care clinical trials we're dealing with well people. We've got the opportunity to look at strategies which actually help maintain health. We do what we call public good trials. One of the best examples is our Monash led trial, looking at low dose aspirin in maintaining healthy, active life in older people. Now, aspirin has been around forever, but what's new about aspirin? Well, actually, there are so many new things around aspirin as this trial has gone on, it's become much more relevant not only for cardiovascular disease, which was our starting point, but also in terms of the major chronic diseases of aging, dementia, disability, cancer.
What we've also found is our trial participants actually tend to come back. We’re quite pleased about that because we think they've had a good experience and if they have a good experience with us, then hopefully that will encourage them, their children, their parents to also think about being involved in trials around how best can we deliver health care. Undoubtedly, the participants in our studies get very good care. They also develop really good relationships with our clinical teams, predominantly our nursing staff, who are involved in the assessment.
You know, we have a selection criteria for our staff, but the fundamental component is the people component. You can almost tell instantly whether or not the person that you're interviewing for a job will be the right person for a clinical trial. They have to have empathy, compassion. They have to be very good at what they do, but also the ability to work as part of a team. It's all about trying to actually do things better to improve health outcomes.
Conduct of a of a clinical trial does not often rest on any one individual, it is a huge team. Our teams consist of our general practitioners who allow us firstly to get in and work with their participants, our nursing staff who really are the public face of our trials, working day to day with participants, building relationships and following them for many years. But we have a behind the scenes team of data managers, statisticians, project officers to really plan, implement, design, look at efficiencies in how we do things.
Communication, absolutely vital. We actually asked people to stay with us for 5 years on a long term study. We need to be communicating constantly that how are we going? What are our results looking like? How is the progress of the study?
I had the opportunity to be the director of a second Australian national blood pressure study, and that actually had a major impact on the treatment of hypertension in older people. I think that's been a really landmark study and we we all like to think that our work has got great impact and will translate. The fact that our research is being done in collaboration with general practice means the findings can be directly taken up by general practice, and that's where prevention really does occur.
Our trials are for the broad population who fortunately have been able to maintain good health. And we want to know why and we want to find out how can we have that good health being maintained for a greater proportion of the population. We often hear when talking to our participants that, well, it might not benefit me, but it may benefit my son, my daughter, my grandkids. And I think that's really something that I sit back and think, gosh, that's fantastic.
Over the past 20 years I have had the privilege to have been able to undertake a number of large-scale community-based clinical trials focusing on the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and healthy aging. We call these ‘public good’ trials as they are often not going to be the topic of major commercial interest to companies but are of immense interest to practising doctors wanting to know what strategies or treatments will give the best results.
These trials have involved more than 30,000 volunteer participants from virtually all states of Australia. Each and every one of them makes a major contribution to our understanding of how best to prevent, treat and manage chronic diseases.
Given our ageing society, both here in Australia and in all parts of the world, these questions are important not only to the trial participants but to their children and grandchildren.
What has never ceased to inspire me is the willingness of our participants to keep to the required treatments, answer our ongoing questionnaires and volunteer for additional study related activities when asked. These studies can often go for between 5 to 10 years so our trial staff often have the opportunity to get to know our participants and share the ups and downs of life.
Altruism, a sense of giving back to society and a willingness to contribute are all hallmarks of many of our participants. We couldn’t do our work without them and we hope that being involved in one of our trials brings a certain sense of satisfaction.