A WA anaesthetist has received $4.6 million to complete the biggest global study into the drug dexamethasone.
Royal Perth Hospital Department of Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine research director Tomas Corcoran got the grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council to determine the safety of the drug used to prevent nausea and vomiting post-surgery, a common complication of general anaesthesia.
Professor Corcoran said it was unknown whether the drug was linked to an increased risk of infection.
‘Post-operative vomiting and nausea is a very unpleasant sensation and can happen in up to 80 percent of patients,’ he said.
‘The concern for us is that we have a very effective drug against nausea and vomiting, it’s cheap and it’s got, as far as we know, very few side effects.
‘But what we don’t know is whether it suppresses the immune system at the time of surgery and if it does, then does that translate into an increased risk of infection?
‘Bear in mind, developing an infection after surgery prolongs your stay and can cost the health system billions of dollars a year.’
Prof Corcoran said the research results could have staggering implications for the one million patients given dexamethasone each year in Australia.
‘When you consider we are giving almost two million general anaesthetics each year in Australia, you are talking about a million people who are potentially getting a drug that may increase their risk of infection,’ he said.
‘Now it may also decrease the risk of infection but we don’t know because nobody has actually looked at it.’
Prof Corcoran and his colleagues will lead the international clinical study, involving about 9000 patients in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and selected hospitals in other countries.
The study will begin in May and be completed over five years through the Australia and New Zealand College of Anaesthetist Trials Group.
In WA, patients from RPH, Fremantle, Fiona Stanley and King Edward Memorial hospitals will take part.