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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 April, 2005, 23:32 GMT 00:32 UK
Experts Examined - Professor Rory Collins
Image of Rory Collins
"Maths sounded rather boring and related to helping insurance companies"
In a series where we talk to leading health experts, the BBC News website meets British Heart Foundation Chair of Medicine and Epidemiology, Professor Rory Collins.

He has helped save the lives of tens of thousands of people through his work showing that heart attacks should be treated with aspirin and "clot-busting" drugs.

Similarly, he has proved the importance of a wider use of the cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins.

At school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My mother has a painting of me that I did when I was about five and it is of me holding a rather bloody knife as a surgeon.

Colleague Sir Richard Peto
He has probably had more impact on health around the world than anyone through his work on smoking and research into heart disease

But I can't consciously remember wanting to be a doctor.

It was a sort of compromise when I tried to think about the things that combined the subjects I liked at school.

At school I thought about doing maths. But when I went to see a careers advisor, the jobs they described involving maths sounded rather boring and related to helping insurance companies. So I decided I would go to medical school.

What first got you interested in what you do now?

After about two years in medical school I decided I wanted to do some more mathematics.

There was an option to do a bachelor degree as a year out and I thought I would do it in statistics, but this turned out to be a rather revolutionary concept.

The Shawshank Redemption
It's a rather bleak but an inspiring story. The protagonists have very positive attitudes

My medical school thought it was a rather dishonourable thing to do I think at the time.

I had read that universities in America were more flexible, so I wrote a letter to about three dozen and one of them replied saying they would be prepared to take me.

After graduating and working as a doctor, I decided I wanted to spend some time doing research. I contacted Peter Armitage, a well known clinical trials statistician, and he put me in touch with Richard Peto at Oxford University.

They were just starting the first very large scale clinical trials in cardiology - the first of the mega-trials - looking at the emergency treatment of heart attacks.

I came to work with them for a year in 1981 and the year never ended.

What are the major issues or challenges in your field of interest at the moment?

The EU clinical trials directive is a bureaucratic obstacle to the evaluation of care.

A friend I met in Washington in my 20s
He gave me the confidence to try to do things and not be put off by the thought of failing

It is a law passed by the European parliament that has to be adopted by all EU countries, and has been adopted by Britain.

The argument for it is to protect patients, but in fact it is harming patients.

It will kill many, many people because it will prevent the reliable evaluation of treatment, not just in heart disease but in cancer and many other conditions.

It's a public health disaster.

What worries keep you awake at night?

Things I have not done. Papers I have not written.

Food, water, air and friendship

But I believe in trying to sleep well at night.

I find I'm more effective if I do.

What do you regret?

I have been incredibly lucky. I have been surrounded by supportive and innovative people.

Losing my temper
I hope I apologise for it when I do

Of course there are things I have done wrong. But the things that went wrong in the long term actually turned out to provide opportunities.

I had originally applied to Cambridge to study natural sciences but I did very badly in the entrance exam and went to medical school instead.

It's hard to say I would be where I am now if that had not happened.

What would you have done if you hadn't gone in to this?

I would have probably ended up working as a medical consultant in a hospital treating individual patients.

People who fail to get details right

I don't think that is where my talents lie though.

I'm much better thinking about the general picture.

Born 1955 in Hong Kong
1981: Graduated from St Thomas' Hospital Medical School in London and joined the Clinical Trial Service Unit at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford
1983: Earned an MSc in Applied Statistics from Oxford University
1986: Earned an MA from Oxford University and became co-coordinator of the CTSU
1991: Appointed Honorary Consultant at the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford
1996: Became Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Oxford University
Current: Lead investigator of Heart Protection Study - the largest trial in the world of cholesterol-lowering therapy and antioxidant vitamin supplementation in people at increased risk of heart disease


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