Global COVID-19 surgery study scoops scientific world record

Collaboration
Global collaboration created a 'record-breaking' partnership

A study led by University of Birmingham experts has been awarded the Guinness World Records title for the world’s largest scientific collaboration - involving over 140,000 patients in 116 countries.

The record for ‘Most authors on a single peer-reviewed academic paper’ is now held by the Universities of Birmingham and Edinburgh after 15,025 scientists around the globe contributed to major research into the impact of COVID-19 on surgical patients.

Funded by the NIHR, the researchers concluded that patients waiting for elective surgery should be treated as a vulnerable group and access COVID-19 vaccines ahead of the general population – potentially helping to avoid thousands of post-operative deaths linked to the virus.

This could be particularly important for Low- and Middle-income Countries (LMICs) where access to vaccination remains limited and mitigation measures such as nasal swab screening and COVID-free surgical pathways to reduce the risk of virus-related complications are not available for many patients.

Overall, the scientists estimated that global prioritisation of pre-operative vaccination for elective patients could prevent an additional 58,687 COVID-19-related deaths in one year.

The COVIDSurg Collaborative international team of researchers published its findings in BJS, Europe’s leading surgical journal, after studying data from 1,667 hospitals in countries including Australia, Brazil, China, India, UAE, UK and USA.

Study co-lead author Mr Aneel Bhangu, a surgeon from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Being awarded the Guinness World Records title for the world’s largest scientific collaboration highlights the scale of our global partnership, which aims to contribute to our understanding of COVID-19 and help to save as many lives as possible around the world.

“It marks the commitment and hard work of thousands of medical colleagues around the world to understand the changes that are needed in how surgery must be delivered if we are to beat the virus and reduce its impact on surgical patients.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, five billion people lacked access to surgical care and 143 million more operations per year were required globally. There was already a major global inequity in access to safe and affordable surgery across low and middle-income countries, with an urgent need to expand capacity. The pandemic has acutely worsened that situation.

Launched in March 2020, the COVIDSurg Collaborative has provided data needed to support changes to surgical delivery in the fastest time frame ever seen by a surgical research group. Research from this huge study group has also explored the timing of surgery after COVID infection, preoperative isolation, and risks of blood clots, all published in the field-leading journal Anaesthesia.

Co-author Mr James Glasbey, also a surgical trainee from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Over 15,000 surgeons and anaesthetists from across 116 countries came together to contribute to this study making it the largest ever scientific collaboration, surpassing even ground-breaking research from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland.

"Every day we hear in the news that waiting lists are growing, and patients are unable to access the surgery that they need. This situation sadly is deteriorating in countries all over the world. Policy makers can use the data from this scientific collaboration to safely restart elective surgery.”

During the first wave of the pandemic, up to 70% of elective surgeries were postponed, resulting in an estimated 28 million procedures being delayed or cancelled. Whilst surgery volumes have started to recover in many countries, ongoing disruption is likely to continue throughout 2021, particularly in the event of countries experiencing further waves of COVID-19. Vaccination is also likely to decrease post-operative pulmonary complications - reducing intensive care use and overall healthcare costs.

Notes to editors:

  • For more information or interviews , please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or +44 (0)782 783 2312. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • SARS-CoV-2 vaccination modelling for safe surgery to save lives: data from an international prospective cohort study’ - COVIDSurg Collaborative is published by the British Journal of Surgery.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) awarded £7 million to the University of Birmingham to establish the NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Global Surgery. This unit is engaged in conducting multi-country randomised controlled trials testing interventions to reduce SSI across a range of low- and middle-income countries.

About the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

The mission of the NIHR is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.