Research is the systematic and detailed study of a subject with the aim of discovering new information or reaching a new understanding. Scientific research follows a structured process known as the scientific method. The scientific method aims to ensure the accuracy of the findings (or data) while removing an individual’s personal point of view.
Medical research applies the scientific method to the study of medicine, disease and health. This is often conducted in hospitals where patients are invited to become research participants. Medical research helps us to find better ways of looking after people, by improving procedures, drugs and medical equipment. People who join medical research may try new medications, new procedures, new ways of being cared for, or they may be asked questions about their condition, treatment and/or care.
All of these different types of research can provide information which enables us to improve treatment options. Research in the NHS does not only focus on patient care and well-being, NHS staff also have the opportunity to participate in research, especially when researchers are investigating methods of improving staff members working lives.
Innovation is the creation, development and implementation of ideas that result in the introduction of new, or improvements to existing, goods and services.
In science, innovation involves the exploration of new ideas in an effort to generate new, or update existing techniques, products and processes. This is a process that starts with curiosity-driven basic research leading to the generation of new insights and ideas. For innovation in the healthcare sector, organisations such as the NHS aim to continually perform research to seek out innovative methods leading to improvements in care and well-being of patients and staff.
Importance of research and innovation
Research and innovation is vital for ensuring healthcare treatments and techniques are constantly evolving and improving. Research and innovation has changed the ways we care for people with medical conditions, illnesses and injuries.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple vaccines were developed, tested and rolled out within a year. These vaccines were able to help in the global battle against COVID-19 savings millions of lives. Not only is medical research and innovation important for helping those who have an illness or injury but, it can also help those with other conditions. An example is In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment, which has had a significant impact on fertility treatments and helped many people have children that otherwise would not have been able to.
A brief history of medical research & innovation
Research has led to various major changes in the treatment of many diseases, particularly since the first reported case of a clinical trial in the 1700s. Some of the big changes to treatment are listed:
The first clinical trial
The first reported clinical trial occurred in 1747, conducted by James Lind. Lind demonstrated that scurvy could be treated by supplementing the diet with citrus fruit, in one of the first controlled clinical experiments reported in the history of medicine. As a naval surgeon on HMS Salisbury, Lind had compared several suggested scurvy cures: hard cider, vitriol, vinegar, seawater, oranges, lemons, and a mixture containing: balsam of Peru, garlic, myrrh, mustard seed and radish root. In “A Treatise of the Scurvy” (1753) Lind explained the details of his clinical trial and concluded “the results of all my experiments was, that oranges and lemons were the most effectual remedies for this distemper at sea.”
Prior to germ theory it was believed that diseases simply appeared out of thin air known as “spontaneous generation.”
In 1861 Louis Pasteur demonstrated that microscopic organisms known as pathogens were responsible for the spread of disease. This new understanding resulted in significant changes to treat, control and prevent disease. These changes included doctors washing their hands and equipment being sterilized.
These findings helped prevent many epidemics from disease that were common at the time including plague, dysentery and typhoid fever. These techniques continue to help us fight current diseases such as MRSA and COVID-19.
Although the use of vaccination stretches far back in human history, it is generally accepted that Edward Jenner’s 1796 smallpox inoculations were the first to start the modern study of the technique and its wide acceptance. Since Jenner, vaccines have been used to combat some of the deadliest diseases such as rabies, tuberculosis, and cholera; with smallpox being eradicated completely.
Due to the success of vaccinations in the past, they continue to be at the forefront of medical care for viral infections to this day.
Research & Innovation at Medway NHS Foundation Trust
Research and innovation studies at Medway NHS Foundation Trust are designated as being either portfolio or non-portfolio.
Portfolio research studies are large scale, national and international projects that are supported by the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network (CRN). The NIHR CRN maintain a data base of studies that are eligible for support.
Non-Portfolio or ‘Home grown’ projects are studies that have not been adopted by the NIHR CRN. It is possible for a project to start as a home grown project and to then be adopted onto the NIHR CRN research portfolio and thus, becoming a portfolio project. Home grown projects are usually smaller pilot studies investigating novel ideas.