Report Seeks Boost for Surgical Research

Scientists almost always think they need more money for research, so a report today from England's Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) isn't a big surprise in that regard. It predictably calls for additional funding of surgical research. Still, it makes some compelling points. Titled From Theory to Theatre: Overcoming barriers to innovation in surgery the report argues that spending on surgical research in the United Kingdom is pitiful: the two big medical research funders in the country devoted just $41 million to surgical work in 2008-2009, out of a nearly $2.5 billion budget. Only 11 surgical trials got U.K. funding in 2009.

Surgical research can be ethically fraught and expensive, two reasons why it might get short shrift. Furthermore, the report argues, the surgical culture "is not always conducive to supporting research, with surgeons themselves not always acting as effective advocates for, or champions of, surgical research and evidence-based surgery"—that's arguably a delicate way of saying that surgeons favor their own pet techniques and aren't interested in modifying them.

Surgical trials have made some headway in the United States, particularly to test cutting-edge science: whether gastric bypass surgery can cure diabetes, for example, or whether fetuses with serious health conditions can be helped by surgery before birth.

RCS suggests that one way to improve things on its side of the pond is to get surgeons participating in research during their training, and making research activities a factor in hiring. The report also notes that some major funders stipulate that grantees devote 60% to 80% of their time to research, a commitment that the RCS argues is not realistic for many surgeons. The report calls for funders to therefore be more flexible in their grant requirements.