More research needed in EU on surgery for non-transmittable diseases
15 March 2009
Life expectancy in Europe has considerably increased in the last few
decades. At the same time, health-related risks such as cardiovascular
diseases, cancer, obesity and diabetes are also escalating and have
already become one of the main concerns for public health in the EU.
For most non-transmittable conditions, surgery remains an
indispensable remedy and yet, little recognition has been given in terms
of support for research and development. More needs to be done.
This is the main conclusion of a seminar held at the European
Parliament earlier this month, entitled “Innovation in surgery: A
solution for European health and societal challenges”. Sponsored by
Avril Doyle (MEP) and organised by the Society for Medical Innovation
and Technology (SMIT), this meeting brought together medical experts,
researchers, and government officials. The main goal was to discuss the
latest advancements in the field and devise possible ways to boost
support for surgical R&D.
As the representative from SMIT, Professor Di Lorenzo, explained,
innovation and research in surgery is only driven by a market-based
approach with American businesses completely dominating the sector.
Companies only develop tools and instruments that may be profitable.
For that reason, he stressed the importance to have public support to
develop technologies that are not marketable, especially those aimed at
treating rare diseases. In his opinion, the EU and its Member States are
“in a position to lead and collaborate” at the same level but this
change has to be initiated by new funding mechanisms and government
Di Lorenzo also highlighted the importance of surgical R&D from an
economic point of view. Certain procedures to treat diseases such as
diabetes can be an effective cure in more than 50% of the cases, a much
higher success rate and less costly option compared to life-long drug
Surgery has also proven to be particularly effective treating what is
now as Diabesity, the combination of obesity and type-2 diabetes. The
treatment of Alzheimer’s using surgery is an area which is still in its
very early stage but initial results show that it could be a promising
one for the field.
All the participants agreed on the need to have surgery research
included in future health work programme of the Seventh Framework
Programme which is currently focused on the development of new drugs.
Today, there just 25 R&D projects being developed in FP7 that have
something to do with surgery and most of them fall in the areas of ICT
As the representative from SMIT explained, surgery has been left out
because it is generally not so “cutting-edge” as, for example other
lines of medial research such as genetics or biotechnology. However, the
real impact of surgical developments in the last two or three decades
has already proven to be more valuable for the life of European
One of the main obstacles for surgery to achieve adequate recognition
has been the low level of participation from surgical associations in
the definition of research priorities in Europe.
Di Lorenzo defined surgeons as “very strange animals, very
individual” and asked them to become more active in setting up networks
to collaborate and exchange ideas. This problem has also been partly due
to the enormous fragmentation of the field into many specialisation
areas such as general surgery, cardio vascular, ophthalmology,
In his opinion, “there is an absolute need for surgery to act with
just one voice” so research needs can be heard by the governing bodies
and new support mechanisms can be put into place.
Finally, the attendees had the opportunity to learn about the
possibilities of simulation in surgery to accomplish three clear
- first of all, to train new surgeons and speed up the learning
curve to become certified;
- second, to asses in advance who is best suited to become a
surgeon and therefore help cutting the unnecessary costs of
excessively long training times for people who are not qualified to
perform at the required level; and
- lastly, surgical simulation could also be used to periodically
re-examine the ability of existing professionals something which is
not the norm in most European countries.
At this meeting, the Society for Medical Innovation and Technology
presented a position paper on the importance of innovation and research
for the advancement of surgery. This document contains abundant data and
detailed explanations about the contributions of surgery to modern
medicine. It also includes potential ideas, both political and
financial, to increase the level of support to develop new R&D
surgery-led projects in the EU.
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