What has preclinical systematic review ever done for us?

Ash Allanna Mark Russell, Brad A Sutherland, Lila M Landowski, Malcolm Macleod, David W Howells

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Systematic review and meta-analysis are a gift to the modern researcher, delivering a crystallised understanding of the existing research data in any given space. This can include whether candidate drugs are likely to work or not and which are better than others, whether our models of disease have predictive value and how this might be improved and also how these all interact with disease pathophysiology. Grappling with the literature needed for such analyses is becoming increasingly difficult as the number of publications grows. However, narrowing the focus of a review to reduce workload runs the risk of diminishing the generalisability of conclusions drawn from such increasingly specific analyses. Moreover, at the same time as we gain greater insight into our topic, we also discover more about the flaws that undermine much scientific research. Systematic review and meta-analysis have also shown that the quality of much preclinical research is inadequate. Systematic review has helped reveal the extent of selection bias, performance bias, detection bias, attrition bias and low statistical power, raising questions about the validity of many preclinical research studies. This is perhaps the greatest virtue of systematic review and meta-analysis, the knowledge generated ultimately helps shed light on the limitations of existing research practice, and in doing so, helps bring reform and rigour to research across the sciences. In this commentary, we explore the lessons that we have identified through the lens of preclinical systematic review and meta-analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere100219
Pages (from-to)e100219
JournalBMJ Open Science
Issue number1
Early online date12 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2022


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