Figuratively – impossible, but virtually – I’m possible!

Switching the Spring CTSA Program meeting from in-person to virtual was not a simple task but I believe we were able to really pull this off.  With CLIC’s coordination and a great effort from the group leads, CLIC coordinators and meeting participants, the virtual gatherings included key topics, lively chats and extremely fruitful discussions. Overall, the level of engagement was palpable (from a safe distance) and contributions from hubs and participants were highly regarded.  A total of 5 virtual gatherings took place between April 14 and 15, with attendance ranging from 57 to 216 participants per gathering.

As expected, one of the main topics throughout the meetings was the COVID-19 pandemic, which as with this meeting has caused a significant amount of disruption to everyday life and new challenges requiring strategic and frequently out-of-the box thinking.

Below are high-level summaries from each group virtual meeting (thank you to the NCATS group leads for providing this information)

CTSA Program Steering Committee

During the CTSA Program Steering Committee meeting we shared our collective and individual work across the hubs to address the Coronavirus pandemic.  Several topics were discussed including NCATS funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), CTSA funding opportunities for COVID-19 activities, an opportunity to demonstrate the impact of the CTSA Program through COVID-19 activities, open discussion by Steering Committee members on what is happening at their institutions related to COVID-19, a summary of the TIN’s support for COVID-19 studies, creation of a clinical evidence data platform for COVID-19 called the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C), and collaborative work among CLIC, CD2H and TIN to respond to the consortium’s need for information and platforms for efforts focused on COVID-19.

Communicators Group

This session included information about how to access NCATS/NIH latest information regarding COVID-19 as well as how we are tracking publications, press releases and media coverage related to the CTSA Program and hubs during the pandemic. In addition, information was provided on how to share news with CLIC and NCATS and the importance of mentioning CTSA/NCATS and citing grant numbers for those  related to work that has been performed and/or facilitated through CTSA Program hubs. Hub communicators presented  best practices to foster communication, collaborations, improve engagement locally and across hubs, as well as, the use of social media to enhance participant outreach, recruitment and enrollment activities. Other topics included strategies to disseminate hub related accomplishments through visual and interactive tools such as videos and real-time feedback.  COVID-19 specific information from CLIC and Discussion Forums to foster two-way communication between hubs, NCATS, CLIC also were part of the discussion.

Common Metrics

This session was convened in an abbreviated format for 90 minutes. Key topics were discussed with the CTSA Program Hub PIs, evaluators, administrators, and respective Core PIs attending the session. The current public health emergency has accelerated the merging of two interests:

  1. NCATS’ and Hubs’ desire to demonstrate Program Impact
  2. Hubs’ desire to decrease/streamline required CM activities, which has become an acute issue due to the pandemic

For FY 20, presenters outlined in the session plans to:

    • Modify expectations for current CMI activities due to COVID-19
    • Communicate the successes of the CMI and dissemination of best practices [Insights to Inspire (I2I) series, publications on the process and discovered best practices, etc.]
    • Transition collection and analysis of hub-level metrics to the hubs
  • Data to Demonstrate Impact (D2DI): Consortium-level metrics describing CTSA Program impact
  • Discuss interest in documenting COVID-19 responses and accomplishments

Integration Across the Lifespan EC

The meeting included updates from NCATS and CLIC and a presentation on inclusion of participants across lifespan from NIH OD that highlighted on NIH Lifespan Workshop (2017) and information on 2nd NIH workshop on Inclusion across life span. This was followed by “Un-Meeting Results: Lifespan and Life Course Research: Integrating Strategies Working Group Updates” (held on March 2nd 2020 at Northwestern University in Chicago) that also included two un-plenary session (one to generate ideas and other to hear from TL1 scholars). The Un-Meeting brought together young and experienced researchers to disassemble and re-envision ideas around research design and conduct to benefit diverse people in all stages of life, and to enhance understanding of health and disease across the life course. Through the attendee-driven agenda, there were discussions to pursue innovations to address ongoing challenges in lifespan and life course research. The un-meeting included 48 CTSA hubs and IDeA CTRs institutions.

Collaboration and Engagement EC

The Enterprise Committee (EC) convened the Spring CTSA Program full membership meeting later that afternoon. Updates on NIH COVID-19 resources and source for updates were discussed. Also, an overview of how the EC structure differs from the DTF, discussion forums and how members might use discussion forums to explore topics of interest and share resources that might evolve into a proposal for a working group at a later date was discussed. Two Hubs presented on the synergy between Team Science and Engagement and the membership had a rich conversation and committed to continue exploring areas of shared interest and cultivating collaborations and partnerships.

KL2 Directors, TL1 Directors, and Workforce Development EC

The Collaborative Workforce Development/KL2/TL1 Spring Meeting was held virtually in the afternoon of April 15th.  There were over 276 attendees on the call. The meeting focused on the Impact of COVID-19 on CTSA Training and Career Development based on results of a Redcap survey that was rapidly deployed by CLIC April 3 – 10, 2020. Common themes that emerged across K/Ts included disruption of research activities, access to lab animals, facilities and supplies, concerns about career trajectory and access to mentors. More KL2 scholars than TL1s now have frontline responsibilities and were impacted by homeschooling responsibilities. Both groups felt that they had more time to think and write. Participants were reminded of the NIH COVID-19 Flexibilities website, however, it is still relatively early to determine the full impact on trainees and scholars.

In closing, our “virtual experiment” helps demonstrate our resilience and collaborative nature to achieve our common goal of advancing translational science. Fortunately, there are things that virtual meetings cannot replace, such as enjoying a beautiful spring day in our nation’s capital or smelling its spring flowers in full bloom.  However, for everything else, going virtual is possible.

We certainly hope we will get to see you all in-person in a not so distant future when life goes back to the next new normal and we can once again enjoy each other’s presence.

In the meantime, please stay healthy and safe.

“In many ways, it is hard for modern people living in First World countries to conceive of a pandemic sweeping around the world and killing millions of people, and it is even harder to believe that something as common as influenza could cause such widespread illness and death.”

― Charles River Editors, “The 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic: The History and Legacy of the World’s Deadliest Influenza Outbreak”

Mike Kurilla