The first on-line facility to prospectively register systematic reviews of health research from around the world has been launched by the UK government.

The register, called PROSPERO, which was started by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)'s Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), is designed to avoid duplication of health research and act as a guard against selective reporting of research.

PROSPERO is completely free and open both to all researchers planning to conduct a systematic review and to the public. Initially, it will include systematic reviews of the effects of interventions and strategies to prevent, diagnose, treat and monitor health conditions for which there is a health-related outcome, while the long-term aim is to include details of all ongoing reviews which have a health-related outcome in the broadest sense, such as reviews of risk factors and genetic associations.

According to PROSPERO's website, the register will provide researchers with a public record of their planned methods, raise awareness of their review and allow them to track its subsequent use and monitor its impact. It will enable commissioners and funders to identify ongoing and unpublished reviews addressing topics of interest, thus helping to avoid unplanned duplication, and will provide developers of guidelines with information about forthcoming reviews which can help them in the planning and timing of guidelines.

For journal editors, the register will provide a safeguard against reporting biases and provide access to key protocol features which they can utilise in the peer review process, and it will enable peer reviewers to compare manuscript findings with the review protocol.

And PROSPERO will assist the public by providing them with free and open access to information, encouraging transparency in the review process, and helping to both ensure that health and social care decisions that may affect them are known to be based on good-quality evidence and avoid wasted money on unintended duplication of effort, it says.

Launching PROSPERO this week, Health Minister Lord Howe welcomed the fact that the NIHR is "leading the international research community by making registration a requirement for all those researchers it commissions to undertake systematic reviews."  Professor Dame Sally Davies, director general of R&D at the Department of Health, which funds the CRD, added: "we are supporting the development of PROSPERO because we think it's important to establish mechanisms that guarantee integrity and maintain quality standards."

"I am also delighted that PROSPERO has been designed so it can be used internationally to promote best practice around the world. Duplication of systematic reviews is commonplace, and it is increasingly important that knowledge is shared efficiently to maximise the use of available research resources worldwide," she added.