Assessment of clinical trial protocols for pathology content using the SPIRIT-Path guidelines highlights areas for improvement

Peter Robinson, Chris Bacon, Shujing Lim, Abeer Shaaban, Daniel Brierley, Ian Lewis, David James Harrison, Timothy Kendall, Max Robinson*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The SPIRIT (Standard Protocol Items: Recommendations for Interventional Trials) 2013 Statement provides evidence-based recommendations for the minimum content of clinical trial protocols. The Cellular Molecular Pathology Initiative, hosted by the UK National Cancer Research Institute, developed an extension, SPIRIT-Path, describing how to effectively incorporate pathology support into clinical trial protocols. The current study assessed the inclusion of SPIRIT-Path items in protocols of active clinical trials. Publicly available clinical trial protocols were identified for assessment against the new guidelines using a single UK hospital as the ‘test site’. One hundred and ninety interventional clinical trials were identified as receiving support from the pathology department. However, only 38 had publicly available full trial protocols (20%) and following application of the inclusion/exclusion criteria, 19 were assessed against the SPIRIT-Path guidelines. The reviewed clinical trial protocols showed some areas of compliance and highlighted other items that were inadequately described. The latter lacked information about the individuals responsible for the pathology content of the trial protocol, how pathology activities and roles were organised in the trial, where the laboratory work would be carried out, and the accreditation status of the laboratory. Only one trial had information specific to digital pathology, a technology certain to become more prevalent in the future. Adoption of the SPIRIT-Path checklist will facilitate comprehensive trial protocols that address all the key cellular and molecular pathology aspects of interventional clinical trials. This study highlights once again the lack of public availability of trial protocols. Full trial protocols should be available for scrutiny by the scientific community and the public who participate in the studies, increasing the transparency of clinical trial activity and improving quality.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Pathology
VolumeEarly View
Early online date31 May 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 May 2022


  • Cellular pathology
  • Clinical trials
  • Protocols
  • Guidance
  • Checklist


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