Medical research reduces deaths in areas where it is created

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A new study provides a new way to show that medical research does save lives, starting with the local communities where it is produced.

The researchers analyzed whether the publication of scientific studies linked to specific diseases reduced the death rates for each disease in the regions where the research took place.

These studies could describe new treatments or other ways to manage illnesses that could benefit patients and add years to their lives.

The results showed that a 1% increase in publications about a specific disease produced by local researchers reduced the death rate for that disease in the region by 0.35%. This reduction occurred during the first five years after the research was published.

“The idea is that doctors who are in the same geographic area as the developers of a new medical idea are more likely to be the first to adopt that idea,” said the study co-author, Rebecca McKibbin, Lecturer at the University of Sydney. in Australia.

“Our results provide a way to measure the direct impact of biomedical research on life expectancy.”

McKibbin, who began the work during his visit to Ohio State University, conducted the study with Bruce Weinberg, professor of economics at Ohio State. Their study appears as a working paper at the National Bureau of Economic Research and has not yet been peer reviewed.

Beyond finding a link between medical publications and lower mortality, the researchers found that the link between health and research went further upstream towards funding, with an increase in funding for medical research linked to fewer deaths in the region.

In this case, a 1% increase in local funding for research into a particular disease reduced local mortality from that disease by 0.22%.

Funding for scientific studies had significant links with lower mortality that appear to be reflected in the literature, Weinberg said.

“It’s not a small rate of return,” Weinberg said. “The results provide further evidence that funding medical research is a good investment. “

The study looked at death rates from 1999 to 2017 for 38 diseases, including 19 cancers. The researchers measured the age-adjusted potential years of life lost, which places greater emphasis on deaths of younger people compared to older ages.

Death rates were measured for each benchmark hospital region in the United States – essentially, areas served by the same large hospitals.

Bruce weinbergThe number of research publications is taken from the PubMed database, which is an index of over 32 million biomedical research publications.

The question was whether more studies on a particular disease from universities and other research centers in a particular area were helping to reduce deaths from that disease in the local community – and the answer was yes.

“Doctors and other healthcare providers hear about the idea first through local networks, which means they put the ideas into practice sooner. This gives a health benefit to people with this disease in places where research is being conducted, ”McKibbin said.

To establish a causal link between research and health, the researchers looked at changes in funding for biomedical research to measure the impact of new findings on death rates. Here, they looked at grants from the National Institutes of Health to researchers studying specific diseases. NIH invests approximately $ 41.7 billion every year in medical research.

Here again, grants given to researchers in a specific community reduced mortality in that region in subsequent years for the diseases they were studying.

Finally, the researchers looked at a single acute “shock” to medical research funding that occurred with the US Salvage and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), enacted in 2009. ARRA increased the budget of the government. NIH of $ 8 billion in 2009 and 2010.

The study looked at what happened to the life expectancy of people with specific illnesses in communities that received additional funding from ARRA.

“This funding represents an unexpected windfall for the region to study a particular disease,” Weinberg said. “We found it was also linked to reduced mortality in the diseases it targeted.”

For the study, the researchers took into account a variety of other factors that can also affect mortality. For example, they monitored trends in mortality for each area, in case deaths increased in one area more than others. They also monitored trends in disease mortality, in case certain diseases worsened over time. And they controlled all areas for diseases that cause local deaths, in case certain diseases were more prevalent in certain communities due to environmental or other factors.

Even after taking these factors into account, medical research has helped patients live longer.

McKibbin said this study used a more direct way to measure the impact of research than many other studies.

Most of the studies have focused on how medical research affects factors like patents or new drugs to treat disease, McKibbin said.

“Here, we have identified the impact of biomedical research on health itself, as opposed to intermediate stages such as the development of new pharmaceuticals,” Weinberg said.

The results also show the importance of sharing research results, according to Weinberg.

“In addition to translating basic science into treatments, the focus should be on disseminating valuable research results to healthcare professionals who can put them into practice. Our results suggest that mortality may decrease when this occurs. “

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