The new research coordinator at the Health Services Authority is part of a long-term strategy to improve the level of health care in the country.
Dr. Tamer Tadros, medical director of the HSA, outlined the plans and goals for research over the next few years.
‘We will start research lines with a strategy. We will work in three circles which will interact.
‘One will be research within the hospital. Two will be research nationwide. And three will be partnering with international research centres to be included in international research studies,’ he said.
The new research coordinator, Dr. Laurence van Hanswijck de Jonge, is overseeing an initial study on the population.
‘The first step we’ve taken now is to develop and launch the Cayman Islands national health registry because we need a baseline. We need to capture actual health statistics to give us an insight into the actual situation and reflect the health status of the environment we’re living in,’ Dr. Tadros said.
In addition to the particular benefits of the study, there will be knock-on effects.
‘It will help with different things such as initiating specific research lines which are needed and beneficial for the community.
‘It will also improve the efficiency of health care management. We will be able to target our resources. We can actively go and offer help wherever it is needed and identify risk factors and risk groups.
‘If we have this foundation, we can in an objective way evaluate ourselves whatever we do and plan based on data. We can see if we improve and reach the goals we’re aiming for,’ he said.
Dr. Tadros also sees the research as a stepping stone to more specific investigations relevant to Cayman.
‘The next step is to get more specific to certain diseases such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. What we want is a comprehensive approach to all of these diseases.
‘What I think is very exciting about research and very beneficial for the country is that once we establish a solid scientific foundation with solid data and we use our scientific network to participate in multi-centre studies, this will allow us for the first time to introduce new treatment modalities here in the island.
‘Without these things, we will always be dependent on overseas. If we want top-of-the-line modalities, we need to be included in research centres. This will automatically enhance the level of medical care. We will always be on the cutting edge,’ he explained.
Involvement in research internationally will benefit doctors here, he added.
‘The medical profession here will be actively involved in the latest developments. This will stimulate a lot of overseas medical facilities to invest in our health care system.
‘This marks a new era for the Cayman Islands. It will put Cayman’s name on the map of scientific publications, which is very important. It will affect not only our health care system but also automatically affect the whole nation,’ Dr. Tadros said.
He also outlined the plan to collaborate with researchers at St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine.
‘We will be working closely with St. Matthew’s in research. I am very excited about this. We will do it in a very sophisticated, academic way to try to link basic science with clinical science. We will get science to serve people in a visible way.
‘We will be developing concepts where simultaneous research will be conducted in the lab of St. Matthew’s dealing with the same disease that will be clinically investigated at the hospital,’ he explained.
With this collaboration, new treatments can be established.
‘A lot of things we clinically assume but never can really prove in a scientific way we can do that in a basic science lab (in St. Matthew’s) and vice versa. We will be working very closely with them and studying treatment modalities in St. Matthew’s. When the time is right to test clinically, we will do that at the hospital working as a team,’ Dr. Tadros said.
He is also looking at working with other universities in the US and Western Europe.
‘We are developing a couple of strong clinical lines to do research here,’ he said.
Dr. van Hanswijck de Jonge will be instrumental in the process, he explained.
‘In the beginning, she will be starting from zero. This is different from the academic environment which we’re both used to. It’s a challenge.
‘She will be very involved in writing research proposals for grants. She will be coordinating research lines, collecting and interpreting data and writing papers. She will be responsible for the oversight of all this research,’ Dr. Tadros said.
For now, Dr. van Hanswijck de Jonge is concentrating on the registry.
‘The survey is my focus now. It’s a great opportunity for the country to see where it stands in terms of its health.
‘After the registry is completed we can analyse it for disease burden and risk behaviour. Once we can pinpoint risk factors and disease distribution, we can reduce the burden of disease by knowing where to focus resources such as on primary care intervention and education,’ she explained.
The aim is to conduct the survey annually to be able to monitor trends in disease and risk factors over time, she added.
Ultimately, Dr. van Hanswijck de Jonge will look outward to other countries.
‘I want to collaborate with other international institutions to get Cayman on the map of empirical medical research,’ she said.
Dr. Tadros sees research eventually taking more prominence.
‘One day I hope that we end up with a very big research department and that research makes a difference in the health care system on the island. I hope that conducting research in the Cayman Islands will also reflect in a positive way internationally,’ he said.