Science

Research Spotlight: Professor Peter Elwood

By Alice Campbell- Smith

Professor Peter Elwood is a researcher at Cardiff University, specialising in the field of epidemiology: the study of the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations. He has had over 50 years of experience in preventative medicine. During such an impressive career, headline hitting work and monumental successes have been achieved.

Elwood specialises in preventative medicine; from heart disease to stroke, and recently cancer. Implementing the first set of randomised clinical trials and evidence based medicine has been the backbone of his scientific research. In an extraordinary study, the effects of aspirin on platelets (cells in the blood) and heart disease was investigated in Caerphilly. Pioneering evidence based medicine, a long term study involving over 2,500 men was set up. The study lasted 35 years and provided data on a variety of factors affecting health and disease and was published in the Lancet.

The study was majorly successful and hit the headlines. Elwood was part of the team that found that a low dose of aspirin has beneficial effects for patients whom have had a heart attack or stroke, providing many indicators of health and disease. While working with Archie Cochrane (after whom the Heath library was named), the epidemiology of health and disease was investigated through evidence based medicine.

Going beyond the study of cardiovascular diseases, it has relevance for nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, coining the phrase, ‘better than any pill.’ The study highlight the importance of following a healthy lifestyle: resulting in a 60 per reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Since the release, this work has attracted much attention in medical science. Prof Elwood led the Medical Research Council in Wales and has contributed immensely to our current understanding of epidemiology and medical practice.

Informing the public on health promotion brings a chance to improve the health of this generation. How to a healthy life is a widely discussed topic in the media, and these studies have provided information on factors which affect a healthy life. Elwood strives to prolong disease free survival. By studying the mechanisms of disease and conducting randomised evidence based trials, it has been possible to explore factors which impact health and disease.

The British Medical Journal featured the study as one of the 50 most quoted medical research articles. The data collected is used by the team, and also collaborating colleagues. To build upon this knowledge, genetic analysis can be carried out and UK BIOBANK has been set up, which aims to ‘improve the health of future generations.’

Elwood continues to work on elucidating important factors of health and disease. Currently, he is working on cancer and dementia. Our society still has questions about epidemiology which ensure research continues.

Clinical practice relies on evidence to advance the study of medicine. Trials utilising the principals of evidence based medicine, which were first introduced by Prof Elwood and colleagues, provide immense understanding of epidemiology.

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