Complex Genetics


Systematic Reviews

Feb 17 - Feb 21, 2020


Both for epidemiological and health care researchers as well as for professionals who are expected to interpret and apply the results of scientific research, it is vital to be able to summarize and review the relevant literature in one’s own domain of interest in a systematic and checkable way. Nowadays a systematic literature review is the point of departure of almost every new research initiative, and upon completion the study results will often be incorporated in an updated version of the review. Systematic reviews are at the heart of evidence-based medicine and public health.

Course objective:

This module deals with the full scope of principles, concepts and methods of systematic literature reviewing, including meta-analysis (statistical pooling of outcomes of included component studies).

1. Ability to distinguish between and mention the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of literature review
2. Ability to tailor the principles of systematic literature review to the requirements of different study designs
3. Ability to identify the subsequent steps of a systematic literature review
4. Ability to identify the relevant elements of a research question for a systematic review (PICO, PED, PTCO)
5. Ability to distinguish between various literature search strategies and methods
6. Ability to distinguish between various approaches and criteria lists for methodological quality assessment of component studies in a systematic review
7. Ability to distinguish between quality assessment tools and reporting guidelines for the publication of scientific reports
8. Ability to distinguish between various types of biased review outcome
9. Ability to perform statistical pooling
10. Ability to distinguish between various sources of heterogeneity
11. Knowledge and understanding of the infrastructure for health care reviewing and the role of the Cochrane Collaboration
12. Knowledge and understanding of guidelines for review protocol writing of systematic reviews
13. Knowledge and understanding of accepted standards and guidelines for the publication of systematic literature reviews (e.g., PRISMA)
14. Knowledge and understanding of systems for grading the quality of evidence from original studies and systematic reviews (e.g., GRADE)

Course Leaders

Prof. Dr. Maurice Zeegers, Professor of Complex Genetics and Epidemiology
Dr. Anke Wesselius, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology.


Feb 17: Introduction to systematic reviews
By means of lectures and workshops we will discuss; a) what systematic reviews are, b) strengths and limitations of the systematic literature review, c) the various types of primary study (e.g., observational and intervention studies), d) structure of a systematic review and steps in conducting a systematic review, e) how to define a research question.

By the end of the day all participants will formulate a research question of own interest. This research question will be used to perform their own mini-review during the rest of the course.

Feb 18: Searching the literature
AM: By means of lectures we will discuss various strategies, tools and sources for searching the literature
PM: By means of a training a literature search will be performed for own research question, and relevant publications (N=5) will be selected.  

Feb 19: Data-extraction
AM: By means of lectures we will discussqualitative and quantitative data extraction from retrieved publications; principles of methodological quality assessment of component studies (e.g., risk of bias assessment); tools for identification of publication bias
PM: By means of a trainingretrieved publications from day 2 will be checked in quality and quantitative data will be extracted.

Feb 20: Meta-analyses
AM: By means of lectures we will discuss methods of (semi-)quantitative pooling of component study results; assessment of publication bias; assessment and exploration of heterogeneity of study results.
PM: By means of a training you will perform your own mini meta-analyses and check for possible occurring bias.

FEB 21: Writing up
By means of lectures we will discuss levels of evidence and interpretation of review results; guidelines for systematic review protocol writing; guidelines for reporting on systematic review; application of systematic review results to individual patient and public health care; infrastructure for health care reviewing and the role of the Cochrane Collaboration.

Location: The course will take place at Maastricht University.
Costs: The course fee is € 499,- and includes materials online and on paper.

Via Erika Bemelmans
Tel. +31 (0)43 3882012