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Intensifying our critical care research

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Intensifying our critical care research

‚ÄčProfessor Craig French has been named one of the country's top researchers in 2021 in recognition of his outstanding commitment to critical care research.

The Australian's 2021 Research magazine names the top researcher and research institution in each field of research, based on the number of citations for papers published in the top 20 journals in each field over the past five years.

Not only has Prof French continued to focus on conducting large scale multi-centre research projects, whose findings have substantially improved health outcomes for critical care patients, he has continued to strive for clinical excellence as Western Health's Director of Intensive Care.

Prof French was one of the chief investigators of a multi-centre research project that examined the role of Vitamin C as a treatment in the case of severe sepsis.

The research took place across four sites in Melbourne, including Sunshine and Footscray Hospitals, and one in New Zealand.

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2020, refuted a commonly held belief within the profession.

"Proponents of using Vitamin C to treat severe infections would cite observational data suggesting it reduced the risk of death quite dramatically," Prof French explains.

"Our study showed that this was not the case and, based on that, we determined that it should not be recommended as a treatment.

"This is just one example of a study that demonstrates the need to critically evaluate therapies in well-designed, multi-centre randomised controlled trials.

"Their value is that they either confirm or refute the findings of earlier research not done in such an environment."

Prof French said that given the advances that have been made in medicine, new treatments are likely to provide incremental benefit. To detect such benefit, trials must be larger and conducted in diverse environments.

"It's important to recognise that just because an intervention is shown to be effective in one study or in one particular country, it's not necessarily immediately generalisable to our population or applicable to our health care setting," he said.

Prof French has has been instrumental in embedding a strong culture of research at Western Health, as well as steadily building up the research capability within the areas he is responsible for.

Five research coordinators have been embedded within clinical teams in intensive care and anaesthesia.

This has been essential in the development of critical care research at Western Health and the publication of multiple pieces of research every year.

A strong commitment to building research networks across institutions has been particularly useful in the response to COVID-19.

Prof French was a senior investigator in a nationwide study that described characteristics, interventions and outcomes of COVID-19 patients admitted to ICUs.

Through the registry that was established, the team at Western Health was providing weekly data that was essential for the planning of critical care services and the broader public health response.

"The study was important in that it clarified for us the characteristics of the typical COVID-19 patient and what was required from hospitals and ICUs.

"We quickly found that the major limiting factor was not so much equipment, but rather having appropriately qualified staff to look after patients, as we are now seeing in outbreaks overseas."

COVID-19 and medical innovations to respond to the pandemic will continue to be a focus of Prof French.

He supported A/Prof Forbes McGain to facilitate the clinical evaluation of the personal ventilation hood developed in collaboration with engineers at the University of Melbourne to protect patients and staff.

Their work looked at how procedures could be made safer by using the equipment to minimise aerosol generation.

"Collaborative research is more important than ever and we are all now acutely aware of its benefit to clinicians, hospitals and the broader community."

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