WashU Investigators Utilize ICTS Structure and Resources to Advance COVID-19 Research

Eric Landsness and Shannon Agner Headshots
(left to right) Eric C. Landsness, MD, PhD and Shannon C. Agner, MD, PhD

Back in mid-March at the forefront of the pandemic shutdown, Washington University School of Medicine neurologist and ICTS investigator Eric Landsness, MD, PhD, was immediately thinking about how he could help.

“As an academic neurologist, I wasn’t on the front lines,” commented Landsness. “But it was personally important to me to find a way that I could contribute to the efforts and help COVID patients.” From this desire to help, Landsness developed a webinar featuring neuroscientist panelists sharing their experiences pivoting research to COVID-19 to help other researchers with their own transitions. With assistance from the American Neurological Association, he garnered logistical support to broadcast and promote the webinar, “Pivoting Research to COVID-19”.

Landsness recruited fellow ICTS investigator, Shannon Agner, MD, PhD, pediatric neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine and Chetan Bettegowda, MD, PhD, neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, as webinar panelists and together they described their experiences at their respective institutions. With over 100 participants, the webinar aired on April 22, 2020.

During the panel interview, Agner detailed how she decided to pivot to COVID-19 research. “When the pandemic hit, we were all considering how to apply our research expertise to COVID,” shared Agner. “Then, the ICTS announced their structure to coordinate COVID research and we submitted a proposal.” Her proposal, “Neurodevelopmental outcomes in children born to mothers with COVID-19”, submitted on behalf of her pediatric neurology and neonatal medicine colleagues, was reviewed by the ICTS COVID-19 task force. Upon review, Christine Gurnett, MD, PhD, ICTS Co-Director, suggested a collaboration with another research team looking at pregnant women with COVID-19. “With this introduction, we formed a multidisciplinary team so that we could look at these mother-infant dyads in a more unified way,” recalled Agner. “It provided for logistical synergies that only happened because the ICTS was involved in the process and suggested the collaboration.” 

Following the webinar, Landsness and the other panelists developed a commentary manuscript, assisted with editing by the Scientific Editing Service, an ICTS Research Development Program resource. The manuscript summary is now available on the Annals of Neurology website.

For Agner, the onset of COVID-19 sped up her to jump to translational research. “As a junior faculty member, most of my research up to this point had been basic science and I wasn’t planning to jump into translational research so early,” reflects Agner. “It was truly valuable to have ICTS there to help facilitate our pivot to COVID research, particularly for someone who had an idea but didn’t know where to start in navigating the translational research component of it.”

For Landsness, “Organizing the webinar was personally satisfying in that it provided a forum for sharing, educating, and collaborating among others in my field. I’m so pleased that it has helped others by getting the word out and now the manuscript and webinar remain as resources for future investigators pivoting to COVID research.”

Listen to the American Neurological Association webinar here.

View the summary manuscript in the Annals of Neurology here.