Important multiple sclerosis (MS) research projects around Australia – which risk non completion against the COVID-19 pandemic backdrop – are set to receive a funding lifeline of $275,000 this month from MS Research Australia. The allocation of this financial support will enable research timelines to be extended by a further six months, securing the completion of important investigations.
Many of the MS research projects supported by MS Research Australia are in jeopardy, with COVID-19 causing extensive disruptions and delays to the research with no additional funds available to cover the lengthening timelines.
The research initiatives underway cover a range of different MS research priorities, including causes and prevention, better treatments and cures via repair and regeneration of cells. They focus on a variety of areas within these themes such as vitamin D, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), gut health, fatigue and depression, through to cell therapy and myelin repair.
The most severely impacted are those conducted by recipients of the prestigious MS Research Australia Scholarships and Fellowships, which support some of our best and brightest MS researchers to answer a critical MS research question.
These researchers would need to work without pay in order to complete their research once working conditions return to normal. The researchers working in laboratories and those running clinical trials will be the hardest hit, and will therefore be important recipients of the additional funding commitment for their work to be completed.
Since the start of the pandemic many universities and medical research institutes have temporarily shut down, with large numbers of researchers having to work from home and disconnect from their investigations. Experts believe the impact of COVID-19 on the Australian research community in all areas, not just in MS, will be far-reaching and extend well into this decade.
“The pandemic has been extremely challenging on research teams all around the country. Project schedules and milestones for research have slowed significantly, essentially stretching out the timelines needed to complete them. The ongoing situation is risking a number of critically important projects being drawn out to the point where they cannot afford to be completed,” said Associate Professor Desmond Graham, Chair of MS Research Australia.
“It’s extremely important we now provide as much support as possible so these considerable research efforts are completed and the results and outcomes are uncovered, published and incorporated into our evidence banks and understanding of MS. We are extremely grateful to the generosity of our donors and fundraisers in helping us provide these grant extensions” he added.
A recent review of research initiatives supported by MS Research Australia found two thirds (66%) of the researchers are running their projects at a slower pace with COVID-19 and three out of four (74%) believe they will require extensions to complete their work. The biggest impact on research was identified where clinical trial participants were needed to be recruited into the research initiative.
“It’s been an extremely challenging time for researchers across the board with many projects unable to progress for the past six months. We really don’t want to see the incredible work conducted by our MS research teams fall by the wayside this year,” stated Dr Julia Morahan, Head of Research at MS Research Australia.
“There is too much knowledge and insight we cannot risk losing. It is critical we work quickly now and do everything we can to support our researchers to bring these amazing projects to completion. We are also working closely with our researchers funded under other schemes to adjust project timelines in line with COVID-related disruptions.”
“Having the opportunity to secure additional funds to give extra time and breathing space to our research is bringing substantial relief to many of us. The frustration of seeing our research stalled has been immense and the added pressure of trying to find salary while we finish these projects is very stressful. I am incredibly grateful to MS Research Australia for providing such incredible additional support for myself and other researchers in the MS research community,” added Dr Wolfgang Marx, an MS Research Australia Postdoctoral Fellowship recipient.
Researchers must apply formally for these extensions via MS Research Australia and research projects will need to be completed under the pre-approved conditions.