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Pharmacy researchers win national award for medical research

6 June 2016

A University of Sydney study which examined the impact of ABC TV's Catalyst program on statin use in Australia has won a national prize for excellence in medical research.

Professor Sallie Pearson and Andrea Schaffer accepting the MJA award.

Professor Sallie Pearson and Andrea Schaffer accepting the MJA award.

The study, released in June 2015, showed that more than 60,000 Australians cut-back or stopped taking statins in the eight months following the broadcast of the two-part Catalyst series which questioned their effectiveness.

Professor Sallie Pearson and PhD candidate Andrea Schaffer were awarded the 2015 MJA MDA National Prize for Excellence in Medical Research for their study at a ceremony last week. The prize is awarded to the best original clinical research article published in the Medical Journal of Australia in the previous calendar year.

Statins are widely used drugs recommended nationally and internationally to prevent and manage the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes, in people at risk of cardiovascular disease.

The Catalyst program questioned the link between cholesterol and heart disease and suggested that the benefit of statins for preventing cardiovascular disease had been exaggerated.

The analysis of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medication records of 191,000 people revealed that there was an immediate impact after the program aired in October 2013, with 14,000 fewer people dispensed statins per week than expected.

Following the broadcasts, health experts were highly critical of the program for misrepresenting scientific evidence and scaring people away from prescribed medications. The ABC subsequently removed the episodes from the Catalyst website after an internal review found that the episodes on statins had breached its impartiality standards.

Professor Sallie Pearson, senior author on the study and Scientific Director of the Centre of Research Excellence in Medicines and Ageing said: “This award win gives further recognition to research highlighting the powerful influence of the media on health behaviours.

“This study demonstrates the benefits of timely access to data to explore contemporary quality use of medicines issues.”

Lead author Andrea Schaffer said, “This study’s message about the effect of the media on health behaviour is important both locally and internationally, and I’m proud to have been part of it, and it is very rewarding to see it recognised in this way.”

Sallie Pearson added: “Our research received international recognition last year, with the Stanley A. Edlavitch Award for the Best Abstract submitted for the 31st International Conference on Pharmacoepidemiology & Therapeutic Risk Management. The receipt of this national award is icing on the cake.”

The study authors were presented with a $10,000 prize and the award at the AMA’s National Conference in Canberra.

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Media and PR Adviser (Medicine and Health)
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