Covid-19 and Ongoing Research Projects Update
Most of the research we fund is carried out in University or NHS Departments where the highest levels of expertise and state-of-the-art equipment are available. The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected all NHS and academic institutions across the UK.
Most people will be only too aware of its impact on health services across all sectors, but hospitals have been particularly affected. Bringing research participants into a hospital environment with the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 infection would not be sensible during the height of a pandemic. However, setting up the required equipment to test people who have volunteered to take part in research studies away from the support of a hospital setting would not be sensible either. Added to this, the regulations that apply to the way research must be carried out would not normally allow researchers to set up a temporary medical research setting for obvious health and safety reasons.
Any studies involving bringing people into a hospital setting for research studies has been put on hold since April 2020. We are just beginning to get the support of NHS R&D Departments to start bringing research subjects back in to continue the studies that have been suspended. This, of course, entails adopting cleaning and sanitising routines in all venues and for all equipment to ensure staff and participant safety in the post-coronavirus era. One of the projects we are funding involves measuring and testing hand and arm movement and function, especially in people who have MS related tremor and loss of dexterity. Tremor is not the most common symptom of MS, but it can be very disabling, and there no effective treatments at present.
The Bristol based MS and Movement Disorders research teams work together on this research programme alongside the University of the West of England. We expect to be able to re-start this study in September 2020 and pick up where we left off at the end of 2019. The researchers are especially interested in brain function changes that can be induced by electrically stimulating a small area of brain with the aim of restoring normal movement to the upper limbs.
Other projects that had been approved for funding were not able to start because of the pandemic. These include studies on brain function in MS that relate to functional changes brought about by the nerve damage that is characteristic in MS. These studies involve using functional MRI (fMRI), a technique that enables researchers to see the differences in brain activation caused by MS and to understand more about how to protect the brain. We believe that we will be able to re-start these projects before the end of 2020 or at the latest at the beginning of 2021.
COVID-19 has disrupted many ongoing research projects in all health conditions. Understandably, the NHS has focused on COVID-19 research. We will be encouraging researchers to use their skills to understand the real impact of coronavirus in MS.