Making the most of down time
“The pandemic has been challenging” in terms of ongoing MS research, said, chair of the Department of Neurology and director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus.
“With regard to the lab, our animal model experiments have been placed on hold. We have stopped collecting samples from clinical subjects for biomarker studies.
“However, my research team has been taking advantage of the time that has been freed up from bench work by analyzing data sets that had been placed aside, delving more deeply into the literature, and writing new grant proposals and articles,” he added.
Two of Dr. Segal’s trainees are writing review articles on the immunopathogenesis of MS and its treatment. Another postdoctoral candidate is writing a grant proposal to investigate how coinfection with a coronavirus modulates CNS pathology and the clinical course of an animal model of MS.
“I am asking my trainees to plan out experiments further in advance than they ever have before, so they are as prepared as possible to resume their research agendas once we are up and running again,” Dr. Segal said.
Confronting current challenges while planning for a future less disrupted by the pandemic is a common theme that emerges.
“The duration of this [pandemic] will dictate how we analyze the data at the end [for the US POINTER study]. There is a large group of statisticians working on this,” Dr. Snyder said.
Dr. Sperling of Harvard Medical School also remains undeterred. “This is definitely a challenging time, as we must not allow the COVID-19 to interfere with our essential mission to find a successful treatment to prevent cognitive decline in AD. We do need, however, to be as flexible as possible to protect our participants and minimize the impact to our overall study integrity,” she said.
Dr. Molinuevo Guix, of the Barcelona Brain Research Center, is also determined to continue his Alzheimer’s disease research. “I am aware that after the crisis, there will be less [risk] but still a COVID-19 infection risk, so apart from trying to generate part of our visits virtually, we want to make sure we have all necessary safety measures in place. We remain very active to preserve the work we have done to keep up the fight against Alzheimer’s and dementia,” he said.
Such forward thinking also applies to major stroke trials, said Dr. Broderick of the University of Cincinnati. “As soon as we shut down enrollment in stroke trials, we immediately began to make plans about how and when we can restart our stroke trials,” he explained. “One of our trials can do every step of the trial process remotely without direct in-person interactions and will be able to restart soon.”
An individualized approach is needed, Dr. Broderick added. “For trials involving necessary in-person and hands-on assessments, we will need to consider how best to use protective equipment and expanded testing that will likely match the ongoing clinical care and requirements at a given institution.
“Even if a trial officially reopens enrollment, the decision to enroll locally will need to follow local institutional environment and guidelines. Thus, restart of trial enrollment will not likely be uniform, similar to how trials often start in the first place,” Dr. Broderick said.
The NIH publishedfor researchers across its institutes to help guide them during the pandemic. Future contingency plans also are underway at the NINDS.
“As the pandemic wanes and in-person research activities restart, it will be important to have in place safety measures that prevent a resurgence of the virus, such as proper personal protective equipment for staff and research participants, said Dr. Wright, the clinical research director at NINDS.
For clinical trials, NINDS is prepared to provide supplemental funds to trial investigators to help support additional activities undertaken as a result of the pandemic.
“This has been an instructive experience. The pandemic will end, and we will resume much of our old patterns of behavior,” said Ohio State’s Dr. Segal. “But some of the strategies that we have employed to get through this time will continue to influence the way we communicate information, plan experiments, and prioritize research activities in the future, to good effect.”
Drs. Snyder, Sperling, Molinuevo Guix, Elkind, Broderick, Wright, Cohen, and Segal have disclosed no relevant disclosures.
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