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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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Medical studies and clinical trials, like this one for Alzheimer's, on hold amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 1:16 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 13:17:17-04

The race to defeat COVID-19 has disrupted other scientific research around the world. Labs have changed course, and some scientists have had to put promising clinical trials on hold.

"There has been a dramatic impact on all of science," said Dr. Paul Aisen, the director of the Alzheimer's Therapeutic Research Institute (ATRI) at the University of Southern California.

Dr. Aisen has been working to combat the disease for more than three decades.

His team had several studies underway when the pandemic hit.

"In a sense, they're all in jeopardy," he explained. "That is, all procedures in every one of our studies has changed, and our ability to collect information and administer therapies has changed."

With many studies requiring face-to-face visits, they've had to adapt to remote options.

"Age is vastly the major risk factor for Alzheimer's Disease; it's also a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality from COVID-19," said Aisen.

His team was also on track to begin its largest study yet, with testing sites in every major U.S. city, as well as in countries around the world. It will involve participants 55 and older, not yet showing Alzheimer's symptoms.

"Their brain functions normally, but we see the plaque accumulating, and we're going to stop the plaque at that stage with this antibody. And we're very optimistic that this is going to make a big difference," said Dr. Aisen.

But their goal of starting in late May will likely be delayed; the drug must be administered in person.

Dr. Aisen says sites will likely begin at different times, depending on guidance from the local health officials in their jurisdiction.

With 6 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer's Disease, he wants to start as soon as possible, while still maintaining safety.

"This study is very, very important to world health, and we have a responsibility to continue this work," said Dr. Aisen.

While Dr. Aisen's team is still managing to make progress, studies in other fields remain on hold, not able to resume until stay-at-home orders are lifted.

"Advancements will be delayed. This is a major disruption, but we are not going to let anything be derailed. We will continue to make progress," he said.

And with collaboration happening around the world, he's hopeful the science community with come out stronger.

They're developing improved research techniques and learning how to do more remotely, all critical if faced with a resurgence of this or any pandemic.

To learn more about ATRI and how to become a research champion, click here .