Advanced course on systematic reviews and meta-analysis: methods and practice

Professors involved: Anna Odone, Maddalena Gaeta, Paola Bertuccio, Giacomo Pietro Vigezzi

Course learning outcomes/abstract: Aim of the course is to provide the foundational theoretical knowledge and practical methodological skills for planning and conducting systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The course is designed to support students in applying the skills and knowledge they will acquire to their research projects and fields of
interest. It includes lectures and practical sessions on all phases of a systematic review and meta-analysis: defining the research question, drafting the
protocol, systematic searching of sources, applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, extracting data, assessing the quality of primary studies, performing qualitative synthesis and meta-analysis, and reporting.
Throughout the course students will be guided in developing their own research project – with the aim of directing its publication on a peer-reviewed journal – and will have access to the resources of the University of Pavia, statistical software for meta-analyses and bibliography management.

Goals: At the end of the course, participants will be able to: Theoretical goals:

• Understand the principles and rationale for conducting systematic reviews (the course focuses on systematic reviews of quantitative studies, although many concepts taught are applicable to qualitative and mixed methods reviews) and how they can be applied to PhD candidates’ research activities
• Identify reliable data sources using a standardised search methodologies
• Apply efficient methods and technologies for reference and review management
• Critically appraise existing systematic reviews and describe methods to assess the risk of bias
• Interpret the results of systematic reviews and metanalyses

Practical goals:
• Manage the steps to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines in order to conduct their own high-quality quantitative systematic reviews and meta-analyses:
1. Develop an answerable research question using the Participants Interventions Comparisons Outcomes (PICO) framework
2. Develop a search strategy to identify relevant studies for a specific review question and understand how to conduct a literature search on key bibliographic databases and grey literature
3. Draft a systematic review and meta-analysis protocol and register it on selected international databases (i.e., Prospero)
4. Apply inclusion and exclusion criteria to identify relevant studies
5. Develop a data extraction form and describe the process used to collect and extract data from reports of clinical trials or observational studies
6. Undertake risk of bias assessment of primary evidence using appropriate methods
7. Select appropriate methods of evidence synthesis and be able to describe and summarise key results
8. Understand potential sources of heterogeneity between included studies
9. Be familiar with good practice in reporting of systematic reviews

Number of hours and planning: 20 hours (5 sessions of 4 hours each) Each session will be structures as following: 2 hour lecture + 2 hours guided practical sessions At the end of the module participants will be able to conduct their own systematic review and meta-analysis and submit it to peer-reviewed journals.


• Introduction to and rationale of systematic reviews in lifescience research (high-level concepts of systematic review and meta-analysis)
• Framing the research question and protocol development (how to frame a research question, as well as scope, elements, and refining the question)
• Searching principles and bias assessment (planning and performing searches, finding the evidence, as well as key sources, search strategy, selecting studies and extracting data and assessing the risk of bias)
• Minimising metabias, qualitative synthesis, and interpreting results (minimising metabias, selection bias, information bias, how to report transparently, qualitative synthesis, and interpreting results, publication and reporting bias)
• Practice exercises (systematic reviews of observational studies and systematic reviews in context)


  • 1° edition FACE TO FACE February 21 e 28 – March 6, 13 e 19 2024
  • 2° edizione DISTANCE LEARNING: From May 8 maggio to June 5


Delivery mode and location ( in presence, on line, ecc): both in presence and on line

Language: English or Italian (Italian sent as a separate proposal)

Evaluation criterial: case studies

Credits (CFU): 5

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