July Talk: Student summary

“Thick” and “Thin” Branches in Epidemiology – a Student Summary from Ana Sofia Oliveira Goncalves

On the 3rd of July 2019, Suzanne Cannegieter held a lecture on ““Epidemiology as a Toolbox to Benefit the Patient”. She graduated as a MD, did a PhD focused on anticoagulant therapy in patients with artificial heart valves, and then completed a Masters in Epidemiology. Throughout her career, she has done numerous studies focused on venous thrombosis. During her lecture, she used venous thrombosis examples to clarify her toolbox, this toolbox can be applied on other diseases as well. She started by highlighting the difference between “thick” and “thin” branch research using a tree as a metaphor. In thick branch research, discoveries are scientific relevant but with little clinical effect. Many other discoveries can come from thick branch research as it leads to further unanswered questions. On the other hand, thin branch research is clinically relevant but holds little scientific influence. Compared to thick branch research, thin branch research is more relevant for patients. She used venous thrombosis as an example for the main study design types: case-control studies, matched case-control studies, self-controlled case series and RCTs. She pointed out that for “thicker” studies, case-controls are the most appropriate study designs, while for “thinner” studies, RCTs are the best option. During the discussion, participants questioned Suzanne whether research can both be “thick” and “thin”, to which her answer was positive. She thinks that it is ideal to be a specialist in a specific disease and a generalist in terms of methods. She also mentioned that scientific research follows trends and some study designs are used less often compared to others.

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