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Press Release

Press release

€4.5 million health research investment has positive impact on health services

17 September 2007

The Health Research Board (HRB) has published the 2007 edition of 'A Picture of Health'. This book outlines, in plain English, the most recent breakthroughs in health research from a total of 48 experts in five third level institutions and eight hospitals throughout the island of Ireland. The research spans a broad range of areas from autism and heart disease to the impact of information technology on patient care and health care planning.

The Health Research Board (HRB) has published the 2007 edition of 'A picture of Health'. This book outlines, in plain English, the most recent breakthroughs in health research from a total of 48 experts in five third level institutions and eight hospitals throughout the island of Ireland. The research spans a broad range of areas from autism and heart disease to the impact of information technology on patient care and health care planning.  

According to Dr Reg Shaw, Chairman at the HRB,

Research, innovation and development are essential to develop Ireland's knowledge economy. But, with record amounts being spent in third level R&D, it is also important that people can see and understand the benefits we can get from these investments. aims to do exactly that. The stories clearly illustrate the benefits for patients, the potential savings for government and how research evidence can be used to improve decision making in relation to health service delivery'.    

According to Dr Mairead O'Driscoll, Acting Director of Research Strategy and Funding - HRB,

'Recent research has led to some of the most remarkable transformations in understanding the human body, health and disease ever known. This growth in knowledge has lead to health protection, disease prevention, reduced disability and improved patient care. Nearly every treatment we receive, tablet we take or medical advice we get is based on evidence gained from research'.  

A full copy of 'A Picture of Health' is available from the HRB website at the link below.

Research Summaries

Effective Prescribing - three separate studies look at value for money, variations in prescribing nationwide and the development of quality standards in prescribing. With the Irish national drug bill exceeding €1.8 billion, Dr Michael Barry in the Department of Pharmacoeconomics in St James's Hospital has been investigating whether we are getting value for money in terms of what we spend on medications. For example: Is the cost of prescribing a preventative medicine much cheaper than the cost of treating someone in hospital for a heart attack?

In order to find this out, Dr Barry examined whether prescribing statins, which lower cholesterol levels and have been shown to prevent heart disease and stroke, are a cost effective treatment for primary protection of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). His team developed an economic model which compared rates of heart disease among people who were, and were not, prescribed these drugs.

His research revealed that prescribing statins to people who have a 15% likelihood of developing heart disease would indeed yield an economic benefit of up to €17,900 - €33,800 per life year gained under the Medical Card Scheme and €24,500 - €48,500 per life year gained under the Drugs Payment Scheme. These findings provide useful guidance for both patients and GPs, as those at risk of developing heart disease can easily be identified during a visit to the Doctors surgery.

In a separate study Dr Kathleen Bennett and Dr Cara Usher from the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Trinity Centre, St James's Hospital, wanted to find out whether there are prescribing inequalities evident in Ireland.

They investigated the regional variation in the prescription of secondary preventative therapies for people with diabetes. 'People with diabetes are between two and five times more likely to die from heart disease than people who do not have diabetes', says Dr Bennett. 'Based on this knowledge, the Irish Cardiovascular Health Strategy recommends that patients with diabetes should be treated with the same secondary preventative treatment as people who have already had a heart attack'.

'Our study showed that this goal is not being reached', she said. 'There is high prescribing of secondary preventative therapies in the midlands, where there is a shared care model approach in place to deal with diabetes. However, research into other medicines showed high prescribing of Aspirin in the Eastern Region, high prescribing of ACE inhibitors (for blood pressure) in the South East, while low prescribing rates were found in the West'.

Their study also revealed that people over 75 years of age were less likely to receive statins and fibrates than younger patients, and women were less likely to get ACE inhibitors, fibrates or statins than men - this confirms earlier research.

Commenting on the results, Dr Bennett says other factors that are impacting on these results are demographics, lifestyle, medical practice and proximity to teaching hospitals.

Another really positive outcome which it is hoped will also help deliver more equitable prescribing is the creation of a new set of practice guidelines which have been developed by Professor John Feely in St James's Hospital. These 'quality indicators' provide the knowledge base that doctors need to ensure their patients get the right medicine at the right time.

'We have devised the quality indicators for the use of medicines in Ireland based on international evidence and views of experienced practitioners', said Prof Feely. 'This should provide better assurance for patients that their doctors are working to the highest standards and build confidence because prescribing is being reviewed by specialists to ensure these standards are achieved and maintained'.

Spotlight on Autism

Up to 40% of children with autism also suffer from bowel problems and the significance of this is a topic of hot debate. In order to find out more, Prof John O'Leary, of the Coombe Women's Hospital examined blood and gut mucus of children with autism and compared it to normal control groups. His research showed that the gastrointestinal disturbances are a new form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

His detailed molecular analysis reveals an abnormality in the local immune system in the samples taken from the patients with autism, which leads to inflammations and symptoms. He also found that this new variant IBD changes over time and is more severe among young people and milder in adults giving hope that it may 'burn out'.

'It is still too soon to know how autism and the new variant of IBD are related, as the evidence does not point to a cause and effect mechanism', said Prof O Leary. However, there is other clinical evidence that the gut and the brain interact and if you treat the gastrointestinal problems, behaviour can improve.

Improving heart disease treatments

Angioplasty is a standard treatment for people with coronary heart disease. It involves inserting a balloon-tipped catheter to the site of a blockage in the artery. The balloon is inflated, which pushes the walls of the blocked artery apart and a wire device called a stent is left behind to 'prop' the walls open. This means that the blood can flow freely and it can save lives. However, in some cases the balloon and stent damage the wall and this causes the artery to block up again.

In order to overcome this problem, Dr Alan Keenan, Dept of Pharmacology, UCD, is developing a drug-coated stent. It slowly releases drugs that treat damage to the wall and stop it from narrowing again, which can prevent the patient from having another heart attack.

'The real strength of our system is that we can design different coatings within a matrix which means different drugs and have them release at different rates to suit the patient. Feasibility testing has already begun using coloured dyes to show different release mechanisms. Our next step is to try it with different drugs'. While this type of drug-eluting stents still need further testing, if these tests are successful, heart patients could look forward to a much better treatment.

Streamlining patient care

People suffering from a chronic disease require services from a wide variety of healthcare professionals, along with active participation in self-management from the patient and their family or carer. This means that a lot of different people have different information about the patient - often in different places.

'This project aims to gather all medical records of the patient on computer and integrate them into a single patient record, which can be stored centrally and be accessible to all authorised personnel via the internet at any location. This is known as an Electronic Patient Record (EPR)', explains Mary Fitzsimons, Project Leader and Principal Physicist at Beaumont Hospital.

The EPR allows a more efficient and effective use of services, and patients are saved the distress of rescheduling appointments if, for example, the most recent information is not available to their GP after their last hospital visit. The research team are already implementing an epilepsy EPR in Beaumont Hospital.

'Although the benefits of EPR are clear, there have been problems implementing them internationally', says Ms Fitzsimons. 'We hope that our research and detailed evaluation of this EPR, related to one specific chronic disease, will provide a good learning model that can be applied to the treatment of other similarly complex chronic diseases', she concludes.

For more information contact:
Gillian Markey, Communications Manager
Health Research Board
m 00353 87 2288514
t 00353 1 2345103
e gmarkey(at)

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