News

Another STEP forward in understanding the safety and efficacy of screening and testing for disease


25 February 2010

One of the most contentious issues in modern medicine is the safety and efficacy of screening and testing for disease, balancing the benefits against risk and costs.

Thankfully University of Sydney research into the efficacy of medical tests for screening, diagnosis and monitoring has been given a boost with a multimillion dollar National Health and Medical Research Council Program Grant.

The $8,915,000 grant announced today is the third grant for the Screening and Test Evaluation Program (STEP) based at the University of Sydney's School of Public Health, and will allow more than a decade's research to continue.

Medical tests - for screening, diagnosis and monitoring - are often poorly evaluated and poorly used. This program, run by an established team with skills in public health, clinical epidemiology, biostatistics, health economics and behavioural science, addresses the under-researched issues of whether, when and how to use medical tests.

A common approach throughout is the identification of the benefits and harms of testing and assessing their trade-offs.

The research is relevant to all partners in healthcare - consumers, clinicians and policymakers - who currently are being tested, or implementing tests without being fully informed about their accuracy and effect.

One of STEP's chief investigators Professor Les Irwig says STEP's examination of screening and medical test efficacy extends across disease groups to cover everything from cardiovascular disease to cancer.

Professor Irwig says the funding will allow the research to continue for the next 5 years to examine in greater detail the importance of testing in the area of disease monitoring.

"This program grant allows us to continue supporting an outstanding research team built over a decade and to affect health policy and doctor-and-patient decision-making throughout the health system," Professor Irwig says.

"The newest component of the research plan is to assess tests used for monitoring people with a disease, to assess whether treatment is working and whether their disease has progressed. The evidence base for what monitoring tests are useful and how frequently patients should be monitored is much poorer in this area than for tests used for screening or diagnosis."

NHMRC program grants are awarded to research groups which have shown outstanding productivity.

Chief investigators associated with STEP and its NHMRC grant:
From the University of Sydney

Professor Les Irwig, Personal Chair (Epidemiology)
Professor Jonathan Craig, Sub-Dean (Clinical Epidemiology)
Professor Glenn Salkeld, Professor (Health Economics)
Associate Professor Petra Macaskill, (Biostatistics)
From Bond University
Professor Paul Glasziou, currently Professor of Evidence-based medicine in Oxford, who is returning to Australia on an Australia Fellowship.
For more information on STEP visit this website.

Media contact: Sarah Stock 0419 278 715.