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Regenerative medicine and COVID-19: The search for a silver
lining


Credit: Flickr

As the nations of the world very slowly emerge out of the
various states of lockdown and adjust to the new normal of social
distancing, working from home, and staggering shifts, it gives us
an opportunity to reflect on the past six months of world-changing
events driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s Signal’s blog carnival has asked its writers to
put their minds to work to assess the negative impact of COVID-19
on regenerative medicine, but also to determine whether new
opportunities might be identified for building a stronger and more
resilient field into the future. (Read what the
other bloggers
have to say on this topic.) As regular readers
will know, I’m not one to dwell on the negative aspects of life,
but it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the vast impact
that COVID-19 has had on our field, and stem cell research in
general.

Early on in lockdown, I was approached by my good friend

Raj Kannan
to help write a piece around some
survey data
that the International Society for Stem Cell
Research had collected from its members. That paper, “COVID-19
Lockdown Hits Young Faculty and Clinical Trials”
was
published in Stem Cell Reports and really tried to distil from the
750+ respondents what the immediate impact of COVID-19 was on the
stem cell science community.

It is clear that there will be substantial losses when it comes
to the generation of young scientists in precarious career
positions – from hiring freezes through to financially broken
funders, time keeps ticking while early career researchers scramble
to minimize the damage.

It is also clear that the negative impacts of COVID-19 will be
felt much harder by female scientists who have, more often than
not, been called on to bear a larger share of childcare and
household management. As well, it will be incredibly difficult to
assess the true impact of COVID-19 on lost paper/grant submissions,
lost research time, etc., as scientific outputs are often spread
over many years.

On the clinical side, the acute impact on current clinical
trials was sharply felt when hospitals stopped just about
everything that wasn’t an essential service and pretty much every
aspect of the clinical trial pipeline experienced disruption
(including some trials being completely abandoned).

All these issues were identified early and some action is being
taken – although not nearly enough to protect the precarious
careers of young female scientists.

Now that COVID-19 is likely here to stay, we can turn to the
medium term impacts on our field and, again, it would be unfair to
ignore the fact that major national hospital and research resources
will be dedicated to understanding and managing COVID-19 –
understandably so, but we must be aware that there is no magic
money tree.

Funding pumped into COVID-19 has the potential to suck the life
out of other experimental medicine programs of both a research and
a clinical nature, and people resources can only stretch so far. It
will therefore be of utmost importance for the field of
regenerative medicine to become more nimble and efficient in
resource management in the medium term and it is here that we can
take some excellent learning points from COVID-19 and its impact on
the research and hospital settings. I’ve highlighted three of
these below:

  • Common purpose has spurred new (sometimes unconventional)
    interactions: there is nothing like a worldwide pandemic to bring
    scientists and clinicians together for the common good. The

    network of research has been vast and interconnected
    and these
    relationships will last well beyond the acute phase of the
    pandemic. This is a great learning lesson for scientists who can
    sometimes be more obsessed with protecting data for their own
    grant, paper or career rather than sharing for the common
    good.
  • Funding decisions and trials frameworks can be
    more efficient. Many organizations have created
    fast-track review processes
    for COVID-19 research, with some
    review timelines being as short as 24 hours. While I could never
    imagine a major funding organization moving that quickly for
    project grants, the 10-12 months that is common in some agencies is
    far too long and could be expedited to move research forward
    faster. Similarly, COVID-19 clinical trials have tested every
    aspect of the trials framework with respect to speed. Getting a
    vaccine approved within a year is virtually unheard of and
    some scientists are concerned
    about the potential recklessness
    in this approach. That said, the
    red tape that has been slashed

    for COVID-19 trials
    isn’t all to do with the science, and
    trials of other compounds/therapies could be expedited without
    substantial risks if the framework was improved.
  • Remote medicine is being given a major test run. Many
    countries, including the UK where I am based, have been
    running non-essential appointments over tele- or
    video-conferencing
    . This could be a huge boost for clinical
    trials if adopted widely by the public. Not only might more
    consistent monitoring via video conferencing be made possible, but
    it could also pave the way for AI-assisted technologies and the
    sort of cultural shifts that can sometimes only be instigated by
    forcing a behavioural change (in the way that a stay-at-home
    pandemic can do). I think this is one of the biggest opportunities
    for future clinical trials and patient management in general. While
    I’m not certain that such a transition will be an easy one (or
    even a desirable one!), this enforced period of remote medicine is
    a one-of-a-kind opportunity to test it out across the world.

As with most crises, there are opportunities: to learn from
mistakes, to disrupt patterns/habits and see new solutions, and to
galvanize people under a common mission. COVID-19 has given the
world a serious shake-up that has been felt in every area of work
and life with regenerative medicine being no exception – we can
and will seize these opportunities.

 

 


Credit: Flickr

As the nations of the world very slowly emerge out of the
various states of lockdown and adjust to the new normal of social
distancing, working from home, and staggering shifts, it gives us
an opportunity to reflect on the past six months of world-changing
events driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s Signal’s blog carnival has asked its writers to
put their minds to work to assess the negative impact of COVID-19
on regenerative medicine, but also to determine whether new
opportunities might be identified for building a stronger and more
resilient field into the future. (Read what the
other bloggers
have to say on this topic.) As regular readers
will know, I’m not one to dwell on the negative aspects of life,
but it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the vast impact
that COVID-19 has had on our field, and stem cell research in
general.

Early on in lockdown, I was approached by my good friend

Raj Kannan
to help write a piece around some
survey data
that the International Society for Stem Cell
Research had collected from its members. That paper, “COVID-19
Lockdown Hits Young Faculty and Clinical Trials”
was
published in Stem Cell Reports and really tried to distil from the
750+ respondents what the immediate impact of COVID-19 was on the
stem cell science community.

It is clear that there will be substantial losses when it comes
to the generation of young scientists in precarious career
positions – from hiring freezes through to financially broken
funders, time keeps ticking while early career researchers scramble
to minimize the damage.

It is also clear that the negative impacts of COVID-19 will be
felt much harder by female scientists who have, more often than
not, been called on to bear a larger share of childcare and
household management. As well, it will be incredibly difficult to
assess the true impact of COVID-19 on lost paper/grant submissions,
lost research time, etc., as scientific outputs are often spread
over many years.

On the clinical side, the acute impact on current clinical
trials was sharply felt when hospitals stopped just about
everything that wasn’t an essential service and pretty much every
aspect of the clinical trial pipeline experienced disruption
(including some trials being completely abandoned).

All these issues were identified early and some action is being
taken – although not nearly enough to protect the precarious
careers of young female scientists.

Now that COVID-19 is likely here to stay, we can turn to the
medium term impacts on our field and, again, it would be unfair to
ignore the fact that major national hospital and research resources
will be dedicated to understanding and managing COVID-19 –
understandably so, but we must be aware that there is no magic
money tree.

Funding pumped into COVID-19 has the potential to suck the life
out of other experimental medicine programs of both a research and
a clinical nature, and people resources can only stretch so far. It
will therefore be of utmost importance for the field of
regenerative medicine to become more nimble and efficient in
resource management in the medium term and it is here that we can
take some excellent learning points from COVID-19 and its impact on
the research and hospital settings. I’ve highlighted three of
these below:

  • Common purpose has spurred new (sometimes unconventional)
    interactions: there is nothing like a worldwide pandemic to bring
    scientists and clinicians together for the common good. The

    network of research has been vast and interconnected
    and these
    relationships will last well beyond the acute phase of the
    pandemic. This is a great learning lesson for scientists who can
    sometimes be more obsessed with protecting data for their own
    grant, paper or career rather than sharing for the common
    good.
  • Funding decisions and trials frameworks can be
    more efficient. Many organizations have created
    fast-track review processes
    for COVID-19 research, with some
    review timelines being as short as 24 hours. While I could never
    imagine a major funding organization moving that quickly for
    project grants, the 10-12 months that is common in some agencies is
    far too long and could be expedited to move research forward
    faster. Similarly, COVID-19 clinical trials have tested every
    aspect of the trials framework with respect to speed. Getting a
    vaccine approved within a year is virtually unheard of and
    some scientists are concerned
    about the potential recklessness
    in this approach. That said, the
    red tape that has been slashed

    for COVID-19 trials
    isn’t all to do with the science, and
    trials of other compounds/therapies could be expedited without
    substantial risks if the framework was improved.
  • Remote medicine is being given a major test run. Many
    countries, including the UK where I am based, have been
    running non-essential appointments over tele- or
    video-conferencing
    . This could be a huge boost for clinical
    trials if adopted widely by the public. Not only might more
    consistent monitoring via video conferencing be made possible, but
    it could also pave the way for AI-assisted technologies and the
    sort of cultural shifts that can sometimes only be instigated by
    forcing a behavioural change (in the way that a stay-at-home
    pandemic can do). I think this is one of the biggest opportunities
    for future clinical trials and patient management in general. While
    I’m not certain that such a transition will be an easy one (or
    even a desirable one!), this enforced period of remote medicine is
    a one-of-a-kind opportunity to test it out across the world.

As with most crises, there are opportunities: to learn from
mistakes, to disrupt patterns/habits and see new solutions, and to
galvanize people under a common mission. COVID-19 has given the
world a serious shake-up that has been felt in every area of work
and life with regenerative medicine being no exception – we can
and will seize these opportunities.

 

 

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