In the modern age of research, we need to work collaboratively. If we want our research to have impact beyond a scholarly article, we need to connect people with a range of expertise.
This includes people who can design, conduct and analyse research in a statistically effective way, as well as others who can recruit the right participants and researchers to do the laboratory work. Then, another group who can ask the right questions is needed, to ensure they are clinically relevant and contemporary.
As Anthony Kelleher, from the Triple I Clinical Academic Group at Maridulu Budyari Gumal, points out: “The belief that one person can do all that, particularly at scale, is essentially untenable.”
He goes on to say, “If you want to do big research you need to work collaboratively, you need to work in networks and you need to have a range of skills.”
The benefits of research collaboration
Collaboration has the potential to push medical boundaries, turning a single hypothesis into a life-changing discovery.
More expertise means different perspectives
When we collaborate across institutions, hospitals, universities and healthcare settings, we expand our ideas. We access more expertise, different viewpoints and access a far greater percentage of the population than exists within one institution. We’re less restricted in terms of budget, scope and reach.
As an example, autoimmunity is a large, complex group of diseases. If you look at the hundreds of diseases that comprise autoimmunity, they affect a large percentage of the community. Individually, however, each autoimmune disease is not very common and affects a smaller population. To access these smaller sub-populations, you still need access to a large population – particularly if you want to identify those with new diagnoses.
Without a collaborative network, there is only so much headway research can make.
Talking about collaboration, Anthony says, “The strength of a partnership like Maridulu Budyari Gumal is the fact that you have potential access to half the population in the Sydney basin. If you’re going to work within the network, you should harness the advantages that the partnership brings.”
Access to expertise you never knew existed
Without facilitating collaboration, researchers in a particular niche may only have access to other researchers within that niche. The reality is, without the chance to network with others outside a speciality, there could be missed opportunities to do great work.
As Anthony says of facilitating collaboration within this space, “we’ve found that people just don’t know what expertise or interest is around.”
Through facilitated collaboration, experts who have never spoken to each other discover they have similar interests, or a research agenda that aligns, or even shared challenges. As a result, mutually beneficial collaborations arise when likeminded professionals come together.
Opportunity to take your research further
For researchers willing to embrace collaboration, the possibilities to deepen expertise, and their sphere of influence, is significantly expanded.
For example, a health professional might be immersed in high-end cellular genomics but not have the clinical networks to test their hypotheses. Being part of a network can further feed a research pipeline, help identify molecular targets and serve as a facility to conduct interventional research in the form of clinical trials.
While there are many advantages to collaborating across research projects, there are some obvious barriers to doing great work.
The barriers to collaboration
Entrenched silos, structural and procedural issues, limited data sharing platforms, and parochial governance issues are all barriers to research collaboration. Not to mention that a lot of highly productive researchers often have their own networks and aren’t looking to develop further collaborations.
“Then you have the far more human aspect which is around whether people can actually work together,” Anthony explains.
As with any worthwhile partnership, there is always a degree of compromise and both sides need to agree what’s doable and what’s not. When this happens, the benefits for patients can be life-changing.