Study Life Cycle
Propose a scientific question
The researcher identifies a unique question that needs to be answered and that could reveal an important gap in our understanding of the genetic and environmental factors that cause common diseases and ageing. Current scientific knowledge needs to be carefully considered at this stage.It is important that the research question can be answered effectively and efficiently using available resources and data.
Formulate a study plan, and then apply for funding and for ethics approval
The researcher has to decide on the best way to answer the research question such as if existing data will be used or whether new data needs to be collected (such as from questionnaires or during a research visit). If the latter, then clinical protocols and / or questionnaires need to be selected or designed as well as deciding who will be in the study (with regard to age, sex, zygosity etc). The method by which the data will be analysed also needs to be considered. The number of personnel working on the study will need to be decided as well as the teams required for support and processing (eg statisticians, research nurses, admin, lab), as well as budget and timelines. Before the study can be proceed further, the researcher must apply for ethics approval to ensure participant’s safety and apply for funding to cover all the costs of carrying out the study.
Recruit study volunteers to collect new questionnaire and clinical visit data, or use existing dataRead More
Recruit study volunteers to collect new questionnaire and clinical visit data, or use existing data
If the study involves collecting new data during a twin visit, then volunteers who fit the eligibility criteria are contacted by the admin team to arrange a visit. Most visits take between 3-6 hours depending on the study and involve completing consent forms and questionnaires and undertaking a range of research tests depending on the research question, such as blood pressure, blood tests, bone mineral density scans, eye tests, lung function, strength tests etc. Alternatively, questionnaires that have been designed to answer a specific research question are emailed or posted out to twins. Approximately every 2 years we also send out a large general questionnaire which covers health, lifestyle and behaviour and which provides crucial information for much of our research. Some of our research involves postal studies whereby twins post us samples such as stools, blood or saliva allowing people to take part in research without coming for a visit. If existing data is to be used for the study then the relevant variables need to be selected.
Analyse and interpret data and then repeat and verify findings
The data (which are anonymised from the start) are checked (a process called ‘cleaning’) to make sure there are no gaps or inconsistencies. The data may be merged with data from prior studies or questionnaires as well as genetic data. The data may also be combined with data from other groups in large-scale approved epidemiological studies. The data is then analysed by statisticians and epidemiologists to answer the research question and to try and identify ‘statistically significant’ findings. Any significant findings are repeatedly checked and often researchers will repeat the study in another group of volunteers to check that it is a real finding in order to ‘validate’ the research and confirm that it wasn’t just a statistical ‘blip’.
Publish findings -adding to the huge body of scientific knowledge and driving researchers to propose the next research question…Read More
Publish findings -adding to the huge body of scientific knowledge and driving researchers to propose the next research question…
The findings are written up and sent to a scientific journal where they are anonymously reviewed by experts in the field, and either accepted or rejected for publication. Sometimes the reviewers ask for more information or for clarification. This is a very important process for researchers as much of the success of a research department is based on the number of publications achieved and also the quality of the journal. Publication of the research means that new scientific evidence and findings have been added to the huge body of scientific knowledge. This is then disseminated widely amongst other researchers in similar and related fields as well as being presented at conferences. This new information will then be used by the same researchers or other researchers to ask the next research question, continuing the endless cycle of science and discovery that drives scientific advancement forward.