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As the COVID-19 pandemic grew, researchers from around the world refocused their efforts to better understand the virus and explore novel treatments. Dr. Lehana Thabane, a health research methodologist and statistician at St. Joe’s, has been playing an ongoing role in developing novel research projects to combat the virus.

Dr. Thabane is the Director of the Biostatistics Unit at the Research Institute of St. Joe’s Hamilton and the interim chair of the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact (HEI) at McMaster University. In addition to his ongoing work of providing methodological design and statistical analysis for a broad range of studies, he has been working on several COVID-19 research projects.

One of Thabane’s recent studies, published in the South African Medical Journal, focused on the transmission of respiratory viruses when using public ground transportation. Thabane and his team screened 74 records and found 4 relevant studies that informed the findings of their systematic review. The evidence shows there is an increased risk of viral transmission with public transportation, which the authors suggest may be reduced with improved ventilation to avoid recirculating contaminated air.

“Although there is no direct evidence on strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19, our review provides useful recommendations on public health interventions used to minimize the risk for other respiratory infections in public transportation, that can be applied to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in similar settings,” said Dr. Thabane. “The information is not only useful to the public for protecting themselves and others, but will be helpful to decision makers charged with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of public transportation systems.”

Another study in which Dr. Thabane is playing a key role is the LIVING Review Project, published in Systematic Reviews, which aims to address the urgent need for COVID-19 evidence-based research. The LIVING Review Project is a living, dynamic systematic review that continuously evaluates the beneficial and harmful effects of all available interventions for COVID-19. As researchers around the world continue to search for an effective treatment, this project will monitor and evaluate the evidence as it is published. The project will ensure that a systematic synthesis of the evidence remains up to date, offering the flexibility to adjust recommendations and decisions, if needed, in light of new evidence.

“The protocol of the LIVING Review Project lays out methods and processes that we plan to use to synthesize the rapidly accumulating evidence from all the trials designed to assess the effects of different treatments for COVID-19. Our goal is to determine the most effective treatments with the least harmful effects to guide care decisions,” said Dr. Thabane. “There are many groups around the world working on similar reviews, and we have started discussions on how to work together to share information for the benefit of patients, care providers, and health care systems. This will also help with ‘replication’ or ‘reproducibility’ of findings.”

Amid this very busy time, Dr. Thabane will be recognized with two honours. On June 25, the Society for Clinical Trials (SCT) will induct Dr. Thabane as a Fellow. His achievement will be celebrated through a special webinar. Then on August 4, the American Statistical Association (ASA) will also induct Dr. Thabane as a Fellow. The honour will be formally presented at the upcoming 2020 Joint Statistical Meeting, which will take the form of a virtual event owing to the pandemic.

“We’re proud of all that Dr. Thabane has achieved,” noted Dr. Gail Martin, Executive Director of the Research Institute. “Research that has the support of a biostatistician is not only more likely to be funded, it is more likely to produce more meaningful results. The value that Dr. Thabane’s work brings to research at St. Joe’s is immense. His recognitions are well deserved and speak to the calibre of the research that he has and continues to produce.”

At the time of writing, Dr. Thabane has over 35,000 citations according to Google Scholar.

The Biostatistics Unit at St. Joe’s works to optimize the quality of research, collaborating with researchers from initial concept through to publication. Under Dr. Thabane’s direction, the Biostatistics Unit has collectively visited nearly 50 countries to help develop high quality studies or to build biostatistics capacity in institutions of higher learning.

To learn more about the Biostatistics Unit, click here.

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