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This year’s 23rd Cochrane Colloquium took place in Vienna, Austria over the course of five days in October, with several department researchers in attendance.

The annual Cochrane Colloquium provides an opportunity for up to 1500 Cochrane contributors, partners and newcomers from all over the world “to meet, network, stimulate, learn from each other, and collaborate with the purpose of advancing Cochrane's work in evidence-informed healthcare”. Through a diverse scientific and social programme, this year’s Colloquium focused on filtering the information overload for better decisions.

In a lunchtime ‘Meet the Groups’ session on day two, Dr Nicola Lindson-Hawley and Professor Rafael Perera represented the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group (TAG) to promote their systematic reviews to delegates and meet potential new and existing authors.

Other department attendees were:

Dr Graeme Spence who delivered a rapid oral presentation on an investigation into statistical methods that can be used to assess the strength of evidence within a meta-analysis. The study aims to see whether pooled results are likely to change as a result of adding new evidence to a review.  

Dr Ben Goldacre delivered a plenary and accompanying workshop. He focused on transparent clinical trial reporting to strengthen evidence based medicine, discussing the ‘All Trials’ campaign and the ‘Open Trials’ project. Open Trials aims to create a database which will house all data and documents on all trials.

Professor Carl Heneghan took part in a new feature of the Colloquium - Cochrane Stories. These sessions allow groups and authors to discuss their experiences of conducting a review. As part of this, Professor Heneghan presented his work on the neuraminidase inhibitors review, which included trials of Tamiflu.

Dr David Nunan gave an oral presentation on developing a tool - Evidence of Effects Pages (EEP) - to disseminate evidence (e.g., Cochrane Review results) of a treatment’s effects quickly and easily to both patients and clinicians. Dr Nunan has developed the first EEP from evidence presented in a Cochrane Review of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEi) to treat hypertension.

Dr Nicola Lindson-Hawley’s highlights from this year’s Cochrane Colloquium:

As well as the colloquium itself there were a large number of pre- and post-conference workshops on offer. I attended a workshop with a packed programme on indirect comparisons and network meta-analysis run by a group led by Julian Higgins. The aim of network analyses is to estimate the relative effectiveness of interventions which have not been compared directly in trials, and are increasingly being carried out by Cochrane.

The workshop covered: planning a network meta-analysis and assessing whether they are appropriate; an overview of statistics; and presenting and evaluating findings. It was very useful, and one of the key things I picked up was to always create a network diagram before starting a network meta-analysis to identify where direct comparisons have been made and plan where indirect ones can be.


I also attended a workshop on a risk of bias assessment tool for non-randomised studies (ACROBAT-NRSI), being developed using Cochrane’s Methods Innovation funds by Jonathan Sterne, Julian Higgins and Barney Reeves. A key part of the tool is to define the ideal design for a randomised controlled trial (RCT) answering the question of interest, and identify potential confounders likely to occur in associated non-randomised studies, at the protocol stage. This is the benchmark to compare all included studies to.

The tool also asks a number of questions which require one of the following responses: ‘Yes’; ‘Probably Yes’;  ‘Probably No’; ‘No’ or ‘No information’.  Where a study is found to be at low risk of bias the resulting evidence is deemed comparable to that resulting from a good RCT. A computerised version of the tool will eventually be available.

Another very useful workshop for anyone involved in systematic reviewing was showcasing the systematic review software ‘Covidence’. It proved so popular that it had to be scheduled on eight occasions throughout the conference. Covidence is currently open-access online software; however while it will always be offered free-of-charge to those conducting Cochrane Reviews, there are plans for it to otherwise become a paid resource. Covidence provides efficient support for tasks that cannot be carried out in RevMan. It is possible to set up a review, allocate authors to it, import lists of references and screen them centrally, so that it flags up if there are any discrepancies between reviewers’ decisions automatically. For studies deemed eligible it is then possible to upload full-text copies of reports and carry out data extraction. The results of these tasks can then be exported to RevMan, along with an automatically populated flow diagram. This has the potential to reduce systematic review workload substantially and I am currently piloting it for one of our review updates.

Finally, despite the absolutely packed, relevant and therefore exhausting programme, there was a little bit of time to enjoy the beautiful city of Vienna. I did so by taking part in a walking tour organised to raise funds for the Anne Anderson award. This cash award is ‘designated by the recipient to assist a woman from a low-resource setting with her Cochrane Collaboration activities’.

As a result I can highly recommend a visit! Next year’s Colloquium is in Seoul, South Korea from 23–27 October. 


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