Cochrane bursary awarded to NAFKAMs Barbara Wider

Barbara Wider Vellinga, ute foran hav og himmel i Tromsøs havn
Foto: Vegard Sørnes, NAFKAM, UiT Norges arktiske universitet

One of two Cochrane Complementary Medicine bursaries for 2023 has been awarded to NAFKAM's senior adviser Barbara Wider. She has received this grant to update a Cochrane review on mistletoe in cancer treatment, of which she is the lead author.

Why mistletoe in cancer treatment?

- Mistletoe products have been studied to see whether they can improve quality of life or survival in cancer patients. They are widely used as an additional treatment to conventional cancer treatment in European countries. In some German-speaking countries, preparations made from European mistletoe are by far the most requested form of complementary medicine and in countries such as In Switzerland and Germany mistletoe extracts prescribed by a doctor are covered by statutory health under certain conditions. There are numerous clinical studies as well as the experiences from long and widespread use of mistletoe products but still there is an ongoing debate about this treatment modality. The earlier version of this Cochrane review published in 2008 has received great interest and has been cited in 12 treatment guidelines. It is starting to become somewhat outdated. With the grant from Cochrane, I can spend more time completing the new review, says Barbara Wider.

What is the debate about?

- Clinical studies have reported improvements in survival and quality of life. However, most of these studies have had major weaknesses so we need to ask how reliable the findings are. For example, in 2015 a randomized controlled trial of mistletoe in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer caused a lively debate, especially in German media. Subsequently, five systematic reviews were published between 2019 and 2022 but they came to different conclusions. For healthcare personnel and people affected by cancer, this creates a high degree of uncertainty about the effect and risks of the form of therapy. With the publication of the new Cochrane review, we hope to clarify the questions that have arisen. To achieve this, my co-authors and I will perform a comprehensive systematic review update - using rigorous methods and addressing meaningful clinical questions, as well as discussing the findings in the context of the conflicting recent systematic reviews.

The aim is to have the new review published by the end of 2023.

Cochrane is an international, non-profit and independent organization. According to their own websites, their purpose is to develop up-to-date and precise information on the effect of health measures, and to make this available worldwide. Cochrane creates and disseminates systematic reviews of health measures, and works to achieve increased knowledge about the measures through clinical trials and other studies [...] The most important product from Cochrane is the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, which is published as part of the Cochrane library.»

Cochrane is one of a total of five research libraries NAFKAM uses as sources for its reporting of research status in the online encyclopedia (in Norwegian).

Each year, the organization awards a few bursaries to Cochrane reviews that have already made significant progress and whose completion has been halted due to a lack of funding. The purpose of this grant scheme is to ensure that reviews relevant to complementary medicine are completed and published in The Cochrane Library.

We congratulate Barbara on the bursary and wish her the best of luck in her further work!


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