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Case study: Over 1200 clinical trials run by Eastern researchers 'back on track' following COVID-19 pause

In the Eastern region, over 1236 clinical research studies supported by the NIHR’s Clinical Research Network (CRN) Eastern have re-opened following a pause last year, helping to get vital research into health concerns such as cancer and mental health back on track.

In the Eastern region, over 1236 clinical research studies supported by the NIHR’s Clinical Research Network (CRN) Eastern have re-opened following a pause last year, helping to get vital research into health concerns such as cancer and mental health back on track.

During the pandemic, many health studies across the UK were put on hold to prioritise Covid-19 research. However, since the beginning of this year, several paused studies have been given the ‘greenlight’ to resume, thanks to the unwavering dedication of staff in bringing research opportunities to patients.

Of the studies, 275 are being led by researchers funded by CRN Eastern and over 42,000 participants across the region have been recruited to studies since they have restarted. 

One such study is the ATTACK (The Aspirin To Target Arterial Events in Chronic Kidney Disease) study, funded by the NIHR, which saw recruitment kick-started again by a research nurse at the Suffolk Primary Care partnership.

Kate Ellerby, a local research nurse funded by the NIHR CRN Eastern, recruited the first patient in the UK following restart for the ATTACK study which is investigating whether people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) should take a low-dose of aspirin (75mg) daily to help reduce the risk of a first heart attack or stroke.

Kate said: “When I first heard the news, I hadn’t realised I was the first to recruit a participant not just regionally, but nationally. It was a great feeling knowing that I was helping to progress the study after it was delayed.”

Many resumed studies have had to adapt to ensure participants can take part from home. However, despite the challenges this may have posed, numerous studies have still been able to recruit new study volunteers.

Kate said: “On restarting, the ATTACK study had removed all face-to-face contact so that it would be COVID-19 secure. In my role, this meant all participant contact was carried out over the phone or through video call. Additionally, by using historical blood tests and urine results from patient records meant that the participants did not have to attend the surgery in person to provide baseline samples either.

“Despite all these changes, we’ve still seen very good figures from the restart. I think Covid-19 has made people more aware of research and what it means to take part in a study - which is a really positive thing.”

The NIHR CRN Eastern is working closely with NHS partner organisations across the region to enable the rapid recovery of studies such as the ATTACK study. This support is aligned with the NIHR’s managing research recovery plan and the Department of Health and Social Care’s Saving and improving lives: the future of UK clinical research delivery paper.

Helen Macdonald, who leads the CRN Eastern, said: “It is excellent to see that the managed recovery of research both in the Eastern region and throughout the UK is making steady progress. By working with research teams, we hope to enable not only paused studies to continue, but also new health research projects in the near future.”

For more information about the ATTACK study, which is led by the University of Southampton (UoS), visit the study website at www.southampton.ac.uk/attack-trial.