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Travel Story: Dr Stephanie Champion

SChampionDr Stephanie Champion from the Robinson Research Institute’s Early Origins of Health and Disease Research group attended Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand (PSANZ) 19th Annual Congress and IMPACT Network Workshop, Melbourne, in April.

This is what Stephanie had to say about her experience:

Did you attend any satellite or special interest group meetings associated with the conference? If yes, please provide a brief summary.
I attended the IMPACT Meeting – Interdisciplinary Maternal Perinatal Australasian Collaborative Trials (IMPACT) Network, run by Vicki Flenady and Philippa Middleton.

The IMPACT satellite meeting included presentations from Professor Khalid Khan regarding UK trial networks, and Professor Shakila Thangaratinam regarding individual patient data meta-analysis. Topics discussed across the two meetings included: a discussions of the strategies for increasing collaborations between clinical investigators and hospitals, supporting multi-centered studies, the importance of core outcome sets, steps to achieving networks, determining priority areas for study, strategies for engaging consumers, and a description of individual patient data and its benefits and challenges.

What was a highlight of the conference?
The IMPACT Meeting was particularly helpful for my understanding of the role teams such as IMPACT can play in building better trial networks (the focus if the workshop was on methods to enhance the conduct of multi-centre trials in perinatology through collaboration and networks). The discussions of why IMPACT will be looking to seek membership with the Australian Clinical Trials Alliance highlighted the value of clinical trial networks aligning with a multi-network organisation. The Director of the IMPACT network outlined the benefits of joining ACTA, to strengthen the IMPACT network and to foster collaboration between IMPACT members and between members and other clinical trial networks.

Please provide details on any researchers or collaborators of significance that you met at the conference and why they are important to your work?
Professor Khalid Khan discussed the importance of developing a minimum set of outcomes for key conditions in published research papers, a small step towards harmonisation. In Professor Shakila Thangaratinam’s presentation, she outlined the value of sharing individual patient data meta-analysis and highlighted common barriers to data sharing and strategies for overcoming the barriers. Professor Jonathan Morris discussed how to embed clinical research within health. He outlined the goals of the NIHR, to create a system in which the NHS supports world class health facilities. To reach this goal, Professor Morris advocated for improvements to health practice via quality clinical trials and building networks. Morris argues research should be the core business of all institutions, integrated into practice and proposed strategies for encouraging families to participate in research (timing, language and education/awareness).

Overall, the presentations by Professor Khan, Professor Thangaratinam and Professor Johnathon Morris are important to my work as they have given me a greater understanding of the role of collaborative networks to support effective clinical research.

How will the experience support you and your research going forward?
Attending the PSANZ conference has supported my roles with the CIS Facility through hearing about the studies underway or recently completed. This has given an excellent picture of the current status of perinatal research in Australia and New Zealand. It was helpful to see presentations on the most recent outcomes of trials I have become familiar with through the RRI.

More specifically, concepts from the presentations by Professors Khan, Thangaratinam and Morris suggested ideas on how to engage researchers with the CIS Facility registry. I will further investigate perspectives of these researchers to see how to approach researchers who are hesitant to offer meta-data for the registry, and strategies to highlight the potential value of the registry.

Bernice Mills presented a poster that also served to support my role with the Research Coordinator Network. Mills outlined her experiences as a study coordinator managing multiple research projects in a single neonatal intensive care unit. She had developed a recruitment process that ensures new mothers are recruited for studies in a sensitive and systematic way. This approach increased the likelihood of a mother agreeing to participate in research studies. The work environment issues Mills identified in her workplace mirrors the problems described by research coordinators in the RCN. Her solution to the problem (regular brief meetings in research leaders, maintaining a list of patients that was monitored daily, mobilising hospital staff to recruit on researchers’ behalf in a systematic way) cannot be directly imitated as RRI research staff operate outside the hospital system, but Mills’ approach was effective and highlights the value of communication between researcher and hospital staff to enhance recruitment. This has given me some ideas to take back to the RCN advisory group. The presentation by Katie Groom on the perspectives of research active practitioners and the roles they play in supporting clinical trial research participation also identified some key strategies for changing community awareness and the culture of research participation that I will share with the RCN.

What was the most exciting thing you learned/experienced at the Conference?
I particularly enjoyed the engaging plenary session on the first day. Speakers at the session, Prof. Soo Downe, Prof. Khalid Khan and Prof. Ben Mol, were interesting, especially the discussion of salutogenic social models presented by Soo Downe. Salutogenesis theory is not an area I’ve read about before and I excited to read more on this theory.

The question and answer panel following the session also highlighted some highly relevant concerns of the changing landscape of clinical research. This session helped solidify an understanding of the benefits and barriers of collaboration and current organisations currently fostering collaboration such as the CROWN initiate and the Global Obstetric Network. The Q&A was also a helpful introduction to the aims and objectives of the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand in general.

What was the most interesting or unexpected moment of your travel?
Contradiction in research regarding the discussion of docosahexaenoic acid were unexpected. Presentations across three studies discussed the value of DHA in improving child health outcomes, with a wide range of null results. This was surprising since it seems there is reasonable evidence to suggest DHA supplements should have a positive impact on health outcomes for preterm infants.

The presentation by Karli Treyvaud and the CHYLD study cohort was also interesting my own PhD research investigated parenting practices. Treyvaud found in her longitudinal study that “positive parenting behaviours” predicts improved child school-age performance at 7 years for very preterm children. The results Dr Treyvaud presented was preliminary so I will keep a look out further published research.

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