Young scientists and trainees at crucial points in their careers may be particularly vulnerable, facing derailment in their research paths through no fault of their own.
shuttered. One of the early actions from the NIH—an effort to “plug the hole in the dam,” as Koroshetz put it—was to assure investigators that salaries and stipends covered by federal grants would continue to be paid even as research stopped. The NIH also issued across-the-board extensions for grant applications and assured flexibility for deadlines and timelines, and pledged financial support for shutdown-related delays. How the pandemic will impact the NIH budget moving forward is a big unknown. Robert Finkelstein, Ph.D., director of the extramural research division at NINDS, points to estimates that it would take $9 billion “to make labs whole” after the Covid-19 disruptions—meaning, essentially, re-appropriating the entire NIH 2020 extramural research fund. Where that would leave next year’s research budget is the question on everyone’s minds. “Do we help recoup this year at the expense of next year?” Finkelstein asks. Vulnerable Populations Young scientists and trainees at crucial points in their careers may be particularly vulnerable, facing derailment in their research paths through no fault of their own. Investigators who are at transitional points in their five-year, NIH-funded research grants and who need preliminary results to apply for their next grant are also at risk. Further complicating matters are shifting immigration rules that may force foreign nationals, who make up a significant proportion of U.S. researchers, to leave the country. Childcare and working-parent issues—a perennial concern for women in science—are looming larger than ever in the Covid era of school and childcare closures. In an April commentary in Nature , Alessandra Minello, a social demographer at the University of
Like so many other sectors of society, neuroscience has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The impact was sudden and unprecedented, bringing virtually all forms of research to a stunned halt and sending shock waves through the global research community. Three months into the laboratory lockdown, as Cerebrum goes to press, scientists are grappling with a radically transformed day-to-day reality, a growing recognition of the lasting impact of Covid-19 on science, and a lot of questions about the way forward. “We’ve lost months of work; there’s no getting around that,” says Walter Koroshetz, M.D., director of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders & Stroke (NINDS) and Dana Alliance
member. Data gathering is mostly halted across the massive research portfolio overseen by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), both internally at institute labs in D.C. and at federally funded laboratories across the country. Clinical research has also been largely at a standstill for the safety of study participants, many of whom have compromised health. Delays in data- gathering lead to delays in results, which means missed deadlines for enrollment goals and other milestones on which further funding is generally based. Domino effects will be felt well past 2020. ‘A Year that Didn’t Happen’ “Everyone is facing a year that didn’t happen, scientifically speaking,” Indira Raman, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University and advisor to NINDS, said in a May 27 meeting of the NINDS Advisory Council that was webcast live . The session was largely focused on how Covid-19 is affecting neuroscience and how to minimize the damage to investigators and their research programs. It wasn’t just experiments that were left in limbo when labs across the country were forced to shut down. Many research staff also wondered how they could continue their work—and continue to be paid—with their labs
Walter Koroshetz / NINDS
12 DANA FOUNDATION CEREBRUM | Summer 2020
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