DALLAS, TX – Scientific research was sharply curtailed across the world when the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, limiting access to laboratories, shutting down basic facilities and ending many clinical trials. American Heart Association volunteer leaders and experts describe the ripple effect of the pandemic on current and future cardiovascular disease and stroke research in a new Presidential Advisory from the American Heart Association (AHA ), “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Cardiovascular Science: Anticipating Problems and Potential Solutions”, published in the Association’s flagship journal Circulation. In addition, they call for targeted support for early career researchers, women and people from racial and ethnic groups under-represented in science; call for increased support and federal funding to ensure the resumption of the research enterprise; and affirm the value of the continued expansion of digital innovations that have changed and improved the design and conduct of clinical trials.
âOver the past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had remarkable scientific success in the face of a huge challenge. However, research labs around the world have faced daily hurdles that started with lab closures, followed by the need for social distancing, disease, supply chain limitations, and many other hurdles. that have hit every phase and every type of research, âsaid President of the Presidential Editorial Advisory Group Elizabeth M. McNally MD, PhD, FAHA, Chair of the Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Sciences Council and Professor and Director from the Center for Genetic Medicine at the Feinberg School Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. âThe pandemic has illustrated why science is important, and we need to reinvest in science infrastructure to rebuild science, so we’re ready for the next challenges we face. “
Shelter-in-place orders linked to the pandemic in the United States and around the world resulted in the closure of almost all research labs for several months in 2020. When the labs reopened, the return was far from normal operations with the need to work in limited teams in order to reduce the staff on site. In addition, clinical studies and trials have been halted to protect patient safety. Supply chains for research materials and equipment remain disrupted, and barriers to hiring research personnel combined with modified or restricted training and education have hampered clinicians and scientists. Funding sources were not available to cover the costs necessary to re-establish research programs affected by these challenges.
Closed schools meant children were at home, and working from home created additional challenges for researchers and clinicians. The international health crisis has also forced many clinician-scientists to move into different professional roles, including providing COVID-19 care in their hospitals. Many of these issues have disproportionately affected researchers, women, and early-career scientists from under-represented racial and ethnic groups in medicine.
“Scientists who are parents of young children have particularly struggled because, for most researchers, it is just not possible to do research at home since the home is not a laboratory,” McNally said. âThe impact has been greatest on trainees and early-career scientists, and on any less well-endowed researcher or from an underfunded racial or ethnic group, or member of communities disproportionately affected by it. COVID-19 infection and serious illness. It takes years of training to become a scientist and clinician, so losing these people from the workforce is costly and potentially irrecoverable. We are asking for an increase in federal investments to stabilize the scientific research workforce. “
Many research efforts have also shifted to focus specifically on COVID-19 therapies, vaccines and population science, away from research on other diseases and health issues (as of May 21, 2021, around 80% non-COVID trials on ClinicalTrials.gov had been stopped or discontinued). This critical change has resulted in the rapid development of COVID-19 treatment protocols and COVID-19 vaccines, fueled unprecedented collaboration between institutions and organizations to share data, and created a dynamic and robust collective effort to resolve the problem. biggest global public health crisis. Advances in integrating and analyzing large sources of data related to the study of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on research, from clinical trials to observational and population health studies.
The drafting group warns that there is still a lot of work to be done to rebuild the scientific research community. They are calling for broad support and increased funding to recover some of what has been lost in the wake of the pandemic. To rebuild a solid foundation, to “better rebuild science”, the editorial group urges:
- Increased federal investments in research funding.
- Support for scientists at risk â those who are caregivers or from groups that are under-represented in science â and compensation for institutions with programs for these researchers.
- Permanent modification of grant and publication review processes to include âImpact of COVID-19â in progress reports.
- Integrate and create new opportunities for collaborative science, thanks to technology.
- Increase flexibility and resources in professional and institutional settings.
- Reinvent scientific meetings to include virtual and online options, as well as networking opportunities.
- A long-term commitment to increase funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in order to improve scientific and statistical knowledge and thereby help make our society more resilient to future crises and healthcare challenges.
“We are in danger of losing a generation of scientists, which could potentially delay progress in the discovery of treatments for diseases,” said vice chairman of the editorial advisory group Mitchell SV Elkind, MD, MS, FAHA, past chairman of the association and professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University in New York. âWe need to act quickly to allocate resources to this problem before these consequences become irreversible. And we must ensure that these resources and efforts are distributed equitably across society to ensure that all segments of society can benefit. “
The pandemic has also increased public engagement in science and medicine. Biomedical science was in the media spotlight, topics related to science and COVID-19 were politicized, and misinformation created obstacles to public health efforts during a pandemic. Yet a large international survey conducted during the pandemic in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Russia, Europe and Asia found that an average of 82% of people considered government investment in research scientist was worth it. A year later, most people believed that science would provide solutions to the pandemic, and nearly 80% believed that science globally had the capacity to improve lives and provide a better future for society.
In addition to these challenges, there have been notable successes, such as an accelerated implementation of telemedicine, with more digital and remote processes to access care. Telemedicine is likely to have a lasting impact on the design and conduct of clinical trials in the future, with benefits such as potentially increased geographic diversity of study participants; increased enrollment of women, under-represented racial and ethnic groups, and rural participants; and streamline testing. The pandemic has also provided unique opportunities to expand research to multiple remote locations using digital technologies, increase data sharing, and change communication with research participants and researchers via video conferencing.
As the largest non-governmental, non-profit funder of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular research in the United States, the American Heart Association recognized early in the pandemic the need to change course. Since March 2020, the Association has:
- Funded $ 2.5 million in new research on COVID-19.
- Creation of a large national registry of health records for patients hospitalized with COVID-19 – the Get With the GuidelinesÂ® COVID-19 CVD Registry.
- Offers increased flexibility and up to $ 3 million in additional funding for recipients of AHA research grants.
- Reviewed nearly 4,000 COVID-19 research-oriented manuscripts in the Association’s 13 peer-reviewed scientific journals.
- Broadcast over 50 oral presentations on COVID-19 research at the Association’s main scientific meetings.
- Creating a collection of resources for health care systems, clinicians, patients and the public.
In addition, the AHA is participating with other nonprofit funders in a new mechanism that will provide funding to early career researchers with care responsibilities.
âIt is essential to remember that, despite the horrors of the pandemic, there have also been many scientific and clinical successes,â Elkind said. âForemost among them was the rapid approval, production and deployment of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. None of these successes would have been possible without the sustained financial commitment of the federal government and nonprofits such as the American Heart Association for several decades before this crisis. Investments in science, scientists and clinicians are investments that will pay dividends in the future and ensure that we are ready for the next pandemic or the next scientific challenges. The American Heart Association, along with its partners, intends to lead the way.
Co-authors and members of the writing group include Ivor J. Benjamin, MD, FAHA; Mina K. Chung, MD, FAHA; Glenn H. Dillon, PhD, FAHA; Adrian F. Hernandez, MD, FAHA; Chinwe Ibeh, MD; Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, FAHA; Louise D. McCullough, MD, PhD, FAHA; Loren E. Wold, PhD, FAHA; Davene R. Wright, PhD, FAHA; and Joseph C. Wu, MD, PhD, FAHA. The author’s disclosures are listed in the manuscript.
– This press release was originally published on the American Cardiovascular Association website