Domhnall MacAuley on a great Norwegian success story

Domhnall MacauleyA great Norwegian success story. Celebrated at Kleivstua in the pine forests of the national park as the sunshine and snow flurries competed for the Nordic Spring. This was the ten year anniversary meeting of the Oslo Sports Trauma Centre. And what a story…

When we invited Roald Bahr to write his clinical review on recent advances in sports medicine in 2001 (BMJ 2001;323(7308):328 (11 August), doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7308.328) it was clear that he was an emerging leader of the discipline. But, who could have imagined the scale of the achievements of this research group in the next decade. First publishing in the specialist literature, including many excellent papers in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, they gradually began to make an impact in the major peer reviewed literature.

For me, their 2005 paper, with an author list of stars, (BMJ 2005;330(7489):449 (26 February), doi:10.1136/bmj.38330.632801.8F) was pivotal in the evolution of sport and exercise medicine research worldwide. This randomised controlled clinical trial was of clinical importance in itself but, even more significant was that it showed that it was possible to test the principles of sport and exercise medicine using the highest quality research methodology. It will remain the benchmark against which every other intervention in sports medicine research will be measured for many years. They missed an opportunity of a celebrated double when their case control study of ski helmets was beaten to publication in the BMJ by Canadian colleagues (BMJ 2005;330(7486):281 (5 February), doi:10.1136/bmj.38314.480035.7C). But, they published it in JAMA the following year. A poor substitute for the BMJ– of course. While their 2005 paper dealt with Olympic handball, a minority sport, they moved centre stage in 2008 with their study of warm up in football (BMJ 2008;337:a2469 (9 December), doi: 10.1136/bmj.a2469). By now the publication train was running and, the evidence from this conference is that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Many research groups have a brief flourish when fate draws together a critical mass of bright and innovative people that fades as time erodes their original thinking. They don’t intend to let that happen and it is clear that, rather than rest on the laurels of 10 years of outstanding achievement, they intend to build for the future, nurturing new research leaders and chasing new horizons. One of their great strengths is their willingness to reach out to other researchers, through sabbaticals, work experience and drawing on visiting expertise. They create partnerships with centres of excellence around the world and continually search for new research ideas. You could see this in their invitation to Evert Verhagen to present a key note address on the health economic implications of his work on cost effectiveness analysis and sports injury prevention. And, exploring the importance of leadership and influence by strengthening links with the Centre for Hip Health in Vancouver which has had a major impact on Government Policy.  But the core of the conference was the current work presented by the Oslo research collaboration. It was a privilege to listen to their doctoral students present work ranging in maturity from explorations of early hypotheses to full dress rehearsals of a doctoral defence. Exciting, challenging, and difficult work. It would be unfair to reveal any details of the direction of their work but I can promise that they will continue to shift the sports medicine paradigm and bring the principles of sport and exercise medicine research into mainstream medical practice.

Domhnall MacAuley is primary care editor, BMJ