Raising awareness of scientific research by Filipinos

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Dexter Canoy is an epidemiologist at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit primarily working on cardiovascular disease outcomes and their determinants in the Million Women Study, a cohort of over a million middle-aged UK women who are being followed prospectively. He has research interests in the aetiology of chronic diseases and determinants of major causes of morbidity and mortality in the population, and conducted epidemiological research in large-scale (big data) settings. Dexter continues to pursue research into obesity, healthy ageing and life course epidemiology, and is currently investigating determinants of women’s health, including the role of reproductive factors, in the development of cardiovascular disease.

Dexter has trained in clinical medicine at the University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital before reading epidemiology for his doctorate at the University of Cambridge. He has previously conducted research in the EPIC-Norfolk cohort study (University of Cambridge), focusing on associations between adiposity phenotypes and cardiovascular disease risks, and Northern Finland Birth Cohort Study (University of Oulu in Finland and Imperial College London), focusing on early life factors of adult cardiovascular, metabolic and respiratory health. Prior to joining the unit in 2010, he was based at the University of Manchester where he pursued research in obesity and cardiovascular disease, closely collaborating with public health, social science and bio-health informatics experts.

He can run a bit, swim a bit, and fence a bit, at least when he’s not injured. But he is rarely injury-free, or so he claims.  

  1. Can you briefly describe your research interests?

I am broadly interested in the epidemiology of chronic (non-communicable) diseases, their burden in the population, and what contributes to the development of these diseases. For many years, I have been involved in epidemiological research using data from some of the world’s largest cohort studies to help identify how factors, such as obesity and reproductive health, influence cardiovascular disease risk.  

  1. What made you decide to do research in this field?

I was keen to understand the wider determinants of cardiovascular disease in the population, and their interrelation with biological factors that are closely associated with cardiovascular disease aetiology. This approach could potentially prevent more cardiovascular disease events from occurring than would be possible by focusing on individual clinical patients alone.

  1. Would you recommend research/research degrees and why?

Doctors and healthcare professionals should have inquiring minds. Obtaining further degree or training in research could help in enabling them to make credible enquiries and pursue questions using valid methods when they conduct independent research themselves or participate in collaborative research. Further research education or training could be useful in critical assessment of new findings, which is crucial in the practice of evidence-based medicine.

  1. Can you briefly describe your journey to your current position in research?

After medical school, I had the opportunity to pursue Master and doctoral degrees in epidemiology at University of Cambridge. My first postdoctoral research work involved a birth cohort in Finland (near the Arctic Circle) which was followed from birth to adulthood. I then moved to the University of Manchester to collaborate with other disciplines with expertise in using large and complex health databases. In 2010, I moved to the University of Oxford to be part of the research team behind the Million Women Study, the largest prospective cohort in the world. 

  1. What advice would you have for Filipinos embarking or thinking of embarking on a career in research?

Research is exciting and rewarding. It is certainly an interesting career path to take. Filipinos should explore ways to obtain further education and training, which could very well be taken in the Philippines. However, it would be ideal to pursue studies and obtain experience in research-intensive institutions, such as those found in the UK.

  1. What are the principal differences between research in the UK and the Philippines with respect to opportunity?

Until recently, research funding in the Philippines have been very limited. The UK invests in research as it is seen as vital in developing the economy and societal welfare. Research infrastructures and institutions have been built and established for a long time in the UK. Unlike in the Philippines, it is possible to pursue research as a full-time career in the UK. There are challenges, of course, not least, by the uncertainties of the UK leaving the European Union (EU), as many research scientists and clinicians are working closely with colleagues in the EU.  

  1. Two of PILAR's goals are to a) raise awareness of the research culture in places like the UK and the resulting benefits; and b) provide Filipinos with opportunities to do research. What kind of initiatives would incentivise you to stay in the Philippines and have a research career there?

We need to strengthen institutions that support and promote research, and build infrastructures (physical and human) that would enable us to pursue high-quality research. Substantial investments from the government and from the industry are certainly needed. Developing networks of Filipino researchers nationally and globally may be very useful. Opportunities for established researchers and young students/professionals to meet, interact and collaborate should be promoted as it might be transformative particularly for the younger generation.

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