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Case study: Lockdown no barrier to Sarah's research participation

Sarah Atkins took part in the REGAIN study

Coronavirus means Sarah Atkins has not had the usual face-to-face experience of a clinical trial from start to finish, but staff at University College London (UCL) Ear Institute and NIHR UCLH Biomedical Research Centre worked hard to ensure Sarah received the care she needed.

Sarah is enrolled on the REGAIN study into hearing loss. REGAIN is the first study of its kind investigating whether a drug that targets the regeneration of hair cells, injected into the ear, can restore hearing.

A teacher from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, Sarah first became concerned about her hearing when she found it hard to hear some of her pupils and in social situations in noisy locations. Sarah enrolled on the trial after reading an article about it in a magazine.

It is Sarah’s first experience of research, having suffered from hearing loss for about three years. She found the experience very positive. She explained: “I had completed all but the final 12-month follow-up and was very impressed with the whole process and all the team involved.”

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lockdown which soon followed, the research team kept in touch with Sarah by email, as face-to-face consultations were not possible.

“I suppose I didn’t feel quite as ‘connected’ to the trial as before, but that was probably more to do with the stage of the trial I was at,” Sarah said.

The study team started seeing patients again in early July, and Sarah’s first post-lockdown appointment took place on July 22.

The thorough measures taken by staff meant Sarah felt safe while visiting the hospital. She said: “I had a health check on arriving at hospital, staff were wearing Personal Protective Equipment and I was asked to wear a face covering,” she said.

Sarah would suggest research to others, despite the disruption caused by COVID-19. She explained: “I would recommend them to take part because I felt I was very well looked after and valued at every stage of the process, with full information given.”

REGAIN has now closed to recruitment but details of how to get involved in research can be found on the Be Part of Research website, which includes information on taking part in research and how hospitals are keeping people safe in their research appointments.