New types of collaboration, more muscle to handle research issues and the opportunity to consolidate and think big are benefits for the research groups that are part of the GCHSP collaboration between regions and universities.
‘Ever since we started GCHSP, there has been focus on applicability and impact for the citizens. Building bridges across universities and hospitals for the benefit of patients’, says GCHSP Director Per Jørgensen.
From the beginning, the collaboration has been driven by a desire to create a more integrated healthcare sector and a smoother path from research to the clinic and from the clinic to the research. And the director does not hesitate to call the set-up a success:
‘At an operational level, we have created a well-functioning framework that brings together basic research, hospital research and clinical work. At the organisational level, we have succeeded in establishing a forum for dialogue on the health sector of the future’.
The collaboration thus represents a major step forward toward an even more integrated health sector, where there are fewer barriers and an even higher level of evidence-based practice. This is exactly why other countries have shown great interest in our set-up, and a similar solution has recently been established at NTNU in Trondheim.
CAGs Are the Engine in the Collaboration
At the heart of GCHSP are the 12 Clinical Academic Groups (CAGs), which can be described as interdisciplinary clinical academic research groups. Here, researchers and clinicians from the University of Copenhagen, DTU, the hospitals of Region Zealand and the Capital Region of Denmark work together within a given area of treatment and research, for example allergy, immunotherapy or heart diseases.
The first four of GCHSP’s 12 CAGs were established in 2017, while a further four have been added in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Professor Søren Brunak, Chairman of one of the first four CAGs (Precision Diagnostics in Cardiology), articulates what the group has achieved:
‘Our collaboration has already been implied in the discovery of a new hereditary heart disease and made it possible to diagnose whether or not people have a hereditary predisposition to the disease. We expect that our further work will lead to the identification of additional diagnostic options that can help the doctors at the clinic in their decision-making. One of our focal areas is ischemic heart disease, where there are a lot of patients and where the treatment can probably be much more individualised’, he says.
If we turn to one of the CAGs (Research OsteoArthritis) that started in 2018, Professor and CAG Vice Chairman Stine Jacobsen explains that they aim to revise the national guidelines that are used as guiding principles in the treatment of more than 900,000 Danes suffering from osteoarthritis. The group will achieve this goal, amongst others, by applying research into osteoarthritis in horses to improve the diagnostics and treatment of people with osteoarthritis:
‘We work to create a better quality of life for those affected. Osteoarthritis annually leads to social costs of more than DKK 11.5 billion. Our research may help reduce that amount by reducing doctor’s visits and sick days for the individual’, says Stine Jacobsen.
CAG Vice Chairman and Professor Palle Holmstrup, who represents one of the four latest CAGs (Research Center for Systemic Low-Grade Inflammation[l1] ), focuses on the interaction between inflammatory diseases such as periodontitis (gingivitis), cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Despite the early stage of the CAG cooperation, expectations are high also here:
‘Treatment of periodontitis can improve the blood sugar value in diabetic patients. Add to this a possible reduction of the blood pressure in patients with high blood pressure. The latter is especially important in relation to patients suffering from ischemic heart disease (due to constriction of the coronary artery), which is the second most frequent cause of death in Denmark’, says Palle Holmstrup, emphasising the need to put periodontitis into a context with other inflammatory diseases:
‘There is a need for increased cooperation in the health sector between different professional groups – the CAG reinforces the possibility of an interdisciplinary cooperation’.
Why Form a CAG?
Overall, Søren Brunak, Stine Jacobsen and Palle Holmstrup point out that through their respective CAGs, they have established and further developed the collaboration with researchers with whom they had no previous contact and collaboration. It has given them added opportunities, new insights and, not least, the opportunity to undertake some of the tasks that may sometimes be extremely difficult to solve as an individual researcher or in a small group. This applies to the handling of administrative tasks, formulation of new research projects – preferably with interdisciplinary perspectives – and the continuous work of obtaining research funding through applications.
‘The CAG provides a bit more muscle when dealing with some of the issues you may find in the research field’, says Stine Jacobsen.
Søren Brunak also points to the opportunities to consolidate and think big: ‘Within three years, our CAG expects to be able to coordinate a larger EU consortium’.