Cerebrum Summer 2020

The Covid Pivot As in other areas of science, many neuroscientists are shifting their attention to Covid-19 research. Many of those with clinical training have been recruited to clinical care. Others are carving out creative ways to support coronavirus-related research or care, such as donating unused Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to medical teams or creating online portals for supporting work in the area, like the Covid-19 Neuro-Arts Field Guide . A group at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute set up a 3-D printing shop in their Education Lab, and has been turning out PPE for healthcare workers in New York. Shannon Agner, a pediatric neurologist at Washington University who studies how viruses affect the brain, launched a research program to track the neurodevelopment of babies born to mothers with Covid. In May, NINDS announced supplemental grants available to current grantees for Covid-related research, creating a mechanism for quickly launching research on how the virus affects the brain. The first of these is a NINDS-based web database to track neurological complications of infection with the SARS-COV2 virus, which has been operational since May. “We need to understand what Covid is doing in the brain and the long-term effects of that,” Koroshetz says. Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), one of the serious complications of Covid-19, is frequently associated with cognitive problems and fatigue in the long term. Among the research questions being asked are: what is causing the prothrombotic, stroke-prone state of the brain during Covid infection, given that both large and small strokes can be a clinical feature of coronavirus infection even before other symptoms

“Clinical, translational, and basic research has been on hold since March. The ramp-up is not going to be sudden, but long,” says Koroshetz. Colonies of research animals will need to be rebuilt, tissue samples thawed and regrown, experiments repeated—all in a socially distanced manner subject to local conditions. “You can’t snap your fingers and be back up and running again.” As of late May, most institutions were putting return-to-work plans into place and trying to figure out how to ease back into laboratory research in a way that protects everyone involved, according to Vicky Whittemore, an NINDS program officer for basic research on epilepsy. Rules may dictate that no more than one person be in the lab at a time, or that labs require partitions. At Johns Hopkins University Hospital, shift work and antigen testing of staff are among the options being

Justin MacArthur / Johns Hopkins

considered, says Hopkins Chief of Neurology Justin MacArthur. A surge of new infections could mandate another shutdown, and people are grappling with how best to prepare for that possibility.

A Johns Hopkins University neurologist

says the institution’s Covid experience “has been a springboard for incredible advancement in telemedicine visits, from just a handful to thousands and thousands.”


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