Page last updated at 14:42 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 15:42 UK

University lauds medical pioneer

Archie Cochrane(PictureCardiff University Archie Cochrane Library)
Prof Archie Cochrane used the community as his laboratory

The work of a Scottish professor credited with changing the course of medical research 50 years ago is being honoured at Cardiff University.

Archie Cochrane signed up thousands of people in the south Wales valleys to take part in studies into public health in the 1950s and 1960s.

Some 25,000 signed up for his research into the lung disease pneumoconiosis.

The university is now launching a worldwide search to find a professor to carry on the kind of work he pioneered.

The university is founding the Cochrane Chair in Public Health, part of a 2.5m research contract, to promote research which "facilitates, informs and promotes the health and wellbeing of society".

Prof Cochrane is best known for his advocacy of randomised controlled trials.

Archie Cochrane took research methods into the community
Prof Peter Elwood

In 1948 he started conducting comparative studies of dust levels in the south Wales' coal mines and two years later, launched the Rhondda-Fach-Aberdare Valley scheme which looked into pneumoconiosis.

It meant knocking on every door in the village and recruiting everyone over five years of age and in all 25,000 people signed up to take part in tests to show how the disease spread.

He worked at the research unit for over a decade, and his interest in coal workers' disease continued throughout his life.

After his death, the Cochrane Collaboration was set up, comprised of 10,000 people in many countries and specialities, who prepare and maintain reviews of randomised trials.

Archie Cochrane and a student look at an X ray( Picture:Cardiff University Archie Cochrane Library)
Archie Cochrane's research methods are still relevant today

Prof Peter Elwood, who worked with Prof Cochrane, said his achievement was an incredible landmark.

"Most medical research at that time was being done in laboratories and at the bedside.

"Archie Cochrane took research methods into the community and he used to refer to the general community as his laboratory.

"And so he got answers to do with very early disease, to do with the predictors of disease, factors that increased the risks of living with a disease, rather than just helping people live with the disease which is the main area of work in clinical practice.

Pneumoconiosis was a dreadful chest disease causing disablement and early death," said Prof Elwood.


"His early work was there but he saw the potential of the community as a laboratory for all diseases and so he started work on heart disease, on eye disease and anaemia and other common conditions."

Cochrane's achievements in public health research in Rhonnda Fach were documented in a 1968 film and his methods remain relevant today.

The Biobank project - a multimillion-pound study of public health over the next 30 years - is led in Wales by Dr John Gallagher, who started as a researcher sharing an attic office in Cardiff with Prof Cochrane.

Dr Gallagher remembered: "He would come up and what he would really want would be help with the Times crossword. But what we did learn was his incredible concern for getting the numbers right.

"He was very precise, very concise about numbers and the importance of evidence to him was absolutely everything."

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