Despite improvements in life expectancy seen in developed countries in recent decades, the health problems we face today, particularly from long-term chronic conditions, still result in avoidable suffering for millions of people around the world.
NDPH was created in July 2013 to undertake research and train scientists to seek answers to some of the most important questions about the causes, prevention and treatment of disease. This will improve health by reducing disability and premature death in both the developed and developing worlds. The challenges we face are increasingly complex and require evidence from large studies and collaboration across multiple disciplines and with other scientists around the world.
Our studies typically involve large numbers of people from many countries around the world. Our volunteers understand the importance of research not just to their own health, but to future generations as well. For example, our researchers work on several of the world's largest and most detailed observational epidemiological studies, such as:
- The Million Women Study (1.3 million participants)
- UK Biobank (500,000 participants)
- China Kadoorie Biobank (500,000 participants)
These studies are building rich health resources that will help transform our understanding of disease over the next few decades. They are already providing insights into a wide range of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes and many more conditions.
In pregnancy and childbirth, the work of NPEU has for more than thirty years pioneered research into the health of mothers’ and babies, and tackled key questions. For example, the Birthplace Cohort Study in 65,000 women recently reported on the comparative risks and benefits of giving birth in an obstetric unit, midwifery unit or at home.
Our research spans different populations and settings. As well as our observational epidemiological studies, we conduct randomised controlled trials to assess the benefits and risks of new treatments, or old treatments used in new ways, among a wide range of different people.
A number of our ongoing randomised trials are the largest studies ever undertaken in their area of study. For example, the CORONIS trial is the largest trial (16,000 participants from 7 countries) evaluating different techniques for caesarean section; the REVEAL trial is the largest trial (30,000 volunteers from 10 countries) of a treatment to modify blood cholesterol in people with some form of circulatory disease.
The NDPH has longstanding expertise in Health Services Research – research into the working of services provided by health professionals and health-care systems. It includes studies of health-care needs, provision, use, costs and outcomes. For example, HSRU has for more than two decades been finding out what matters most to patients through the development of Patient Reported Outcomes Measures (PROMS) for a wide range of long-term chronic conditions, including knee pain, Parkinson's disease, endometriosis, and cognitive impairment. In addition, HERC has been at the forefront of evaluating the cost-effectiveness of treatments used in a wide range of conditions.
We are also assessing practical ways to deal with modern health problems at a population level. For example, our BHF Centre is evaluating the promotion of physical activity and more effective food labelling to tackle the growing obesity epidemic. In the areas of ethics and law, our ETHOX and HeLEX centres are at the forefront of research and policy on a diverse range of issues, including the ethical, legal and societal implications of large-scale genomic testing, biobanking and data privacy.
A few examples of the global span of our research:
- Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group - EBCTCG brings together more than 600 researchers from around 50 countries, and over the last two decades their meta-analyses have helped improve survival for women with breast cancer.
- Global Health Bioethics Network - is a network co-ordinated by us carrying out ethics research and building capacity with scientists and researchers in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand-Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam.
Premature death in Russian men - the extraordinarily high and fluctuating death rates of Russian adults, particularly men, are mainly due to hazardous patterns of use of alcoholic spirits (mainly vodka), aggravated by widespread tobacco. Working with David Zaridze from Moscow, we confirmed this by analyses of nationwide Russian mortality patterns, by a retrospective study of the family-reported drinking habits of 50,000 dead Russians, and by a prospective study that followed 150,000 Russian adults for 10 years.