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Year 4 student, Catrin Jones, looks back on how she completed an award-winning FHS project from her bedroom. Working with the Hypertension Group at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, Catrin not only produced findings of significant importance to the clinical care of pregnant women, but also won the prestigious Wronker Research Project Prize.

Profile picture of Catrin Jones

Last year’s selection of FHS projects were slightly different to previous years. The pandemic forced many of us to move our projects online at home, a decision that I initially resented, but came to really enjoy. Following the collapse of my previous lab-based project, my personal tutor suggested I take a different approach: to conduct a systematic review.

I confess, at that moment, I had never even heard of a systematic review, and even less so what one entailed. What I did know was that I wanted to research something that could be applied directly to patients in a clinical setting. With that, I came across the Nuffield Department of Primary Health Care Sciences, which boasted countless publications of systematic reviews in many current and exciting clinical areas. I discovered their Hypertension Research Group and got in contact with Professor Richard McManus who kindly offered me a project in the group and soon enough, I had started my project with Dr Katherine Tucker.

My systematic review and meta-analysis investigated the diagnostic accuracy of point-of-care tests for detecting proteinuria in pregnancy, something that is important for identifying pre-eclampsia in these women. Dr Tucker, and my co-supervisor Bethany Jakubowski, guided me through the ins and outs of how to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis. I really was starting from scratch, learning to code in statistical software and create a protocol; things I had never done before. It was a lot of work.

Conducting a systematic review is a large commitment, but as I got more comfortable with the project, I came to understand what makes a good systematic review. I went from scratching my head over how to import data into statistical software to using difficult coding to produce complex graphs in my meta-analysis. I became a lot more confident in my ability as a new researcher and understanding the implications of my results for clinical practice.

Ultimately, I concluded that the current point-of-care tests used in antenatal care were not reasonable as a rule-out test for proteinuria. In fact, I discovered over a quarter of proteinuric women would be missed when tested using a urine dipstick, and even use of an automated reader did not improve accuracy despite NICE guidelines recommending the latter as a superior testing method. The research highlighted the distinct need for more accurate point-of-care testing in pregnant women; something that is essential to avoid undiagnosed pre-eclampsia.

Most unusual was the fact that this whole project was done entirely from my bedroom, something that was uniquely different from previous years. Yet what this FHS project gave me was an opportunity to learn new skills and contribute to this area of research by hopefully publishing my research. Even through all the ups and downs of the project, I ended up winning the Wronker Research Project Prize; something I was surprised but thrilled to receive.

I would recommend conducting a systematic review as an FHS project to any student as it really is one of the most comprehensive and valuable pieces of research you can do. I thoroughly enjoyed the project and hope my research can contribute to a greater understanding of the value of point-of-care tests in pregnancy.

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