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How to lower the carbon footprint of clinical and biomedical research?


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Simplifying study design and conduct, and reducing trial-related travel, could decrease the carbon footprint of clinical trials.
  • Following strategies based on actions/policies/standards related to good research practices, data stewardship, responsible reporting, and open science could prevent research waste.

Like many industries, the clinical and biomedical research sectors are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. The topic was raised earlier this year in two articles in the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) journal, Medical Writing.

The first article, written by Dr Raquel Billiones, discussed the results of a literature review on the carbon footprint of clinical trials. Analysis of 5 relevant publications revealed that the main drivers of CO2 emissions were study site operation, trial-related travel, and trial supplies. Recommended strategies to minimise the environmental impact included:

  • embedding sustainability as a core part of research governance
  • involving regulatory bodies, ethics committees, and biomedical journals in policing the carbon footprint
  • developing methods to allow the carbon cost of a trial to be considered at the planning stage
  • simplifying study designs and avoiding unnecessary data collection
  • adherence to the National Institute for Health and Care Research carbon reduction guidelines
  • using systematic reviews to justify new trials
  • reducing bureaucracy
  • minimising trial-related travel, including face-to-face visits
  • improvement of logistics (eg lighter packaging)
  • use of renewable energy.

“The need for reliable clinical trial data has to be weighed against
the urgency of the climate crisis.”

With an estimated 85% of biomedical research wasted due to inefficiencies, the industry has a considerable impact on the environment. The second article, co-authored by Dr Kimi Uegaki and Dr Raquel Billiones, summarised the strategies to prevent research waste, highlighting the role of medical writers and communicators in these efforts. The proposed strategies were based on actions, policies, and standards related to the following pillars:

  • Good research practices: scientifically sound, efficient clinical trials with an evidence-based research approach; adherence to good research and documentation practices; clear and easily implementable protocols which are timely and accurately registered
  • Data stewardship: data minimisation; adherence to FAIR (findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability) data management as part of funding requirements
  • Responsible reporting: timely and public posting of results (including those that are negative or inconclusive); clear, accurate, and fit-for-purpose documents; proactive data anonymisation; ‘lean writing’; good documentation practice; use of plain language summaries
  • Open science: accurate and responsible scientific reporting; use of a publication plan; publication in open access journals and avoidance of predatory journals; adherence to EQUATOR and Good Publication Practice guidelines

We look forward to seeing these strategies implemented as part of a drive for increased sustainability in clinical and biomedical research.

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What do you think – will you be taking the recommended actions to make research more sustainable?

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