Research News

Creative Scientist Workshop to explore past, present and future of remote trials

Illustration incorporating a cellphone with connecting lines to icons representing medical events.

Graphic courtesy of Medical University of South Carolina South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research Institute.


Published October 26, 2021

“Remote trials can be an excellent strategy for engaging populations who are traditionally excluded from the benefits of participating in clinical research. ”
Timothy Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor and director
Clinical and Translational Science Institute

One of the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on clinical and translational research was the sudden and necessary increase in remote trials. This complex shift, what it means for investigators and participants, and how remote trials can be improved is the subject of the 2021 Creative Scientist Workshop on Nov. 9.

Co-presented by the University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research (SCTR) Institute, the free, virtual event, titled “Remote Trials: Future or Fiasco?” will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern. Register here.

Larry Hawk, 20th Century Club Professor in the Department of Psychology and CTSI Creative Scientist Workshops director, calls the workshop “an opportunity for the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) network to reflect on the benefits of and barriers to remote trials. Then, we can collaboratively consider remote trial methods as both a challenge and a set of opportunities for re-envisioning our clinical and translational research process to make that process better, more efficient and more inclusive.”

‘What is the state of the science?’

Serving as co-director of this year’s Creative Scientist Workshop is Jennifer Dahne, co-director of the Remote and Virtual Trials Program and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, College of Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina. She is a longtime proponent of remote trials.

“There are a lot of benefits of going remote,” Dahne says. “We are bringing our trials to our participants instead of bringing our participants to our trials. That can be critically important for participants who have travel barriers or are ill.”

However, she says the rise in remote trials also offers an opportunity to explore how to make improvements.

“We want to reflect on these trials that have gone remote and say, ‘What has worked and what has not worked? For which groups have these methods worked? What is the state of the science?’

“That will be important,” she notes, “for thinking about moving forward — to make sure that these remote trial methods and designs actually are expanding trial access and making trials more feasible and more rigorous. It will also help us identify methods that are not meeting those goals so that we can modify or eliminate them.”

Lineup of national speakers

The workshop will open with a welcome from Timothy F. Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor and CTSI director, followed by six speakers, each with a different niche and perspective.

Organizers hope these perspectives together will address some of the hopes, fears and learning objectives of workshop participants. In addition, Hawk adds, “these perspectives may make clear what we need to do next in order to make trials better and improve public health.”

Hawk calls the first speaker, Daniel Ford, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, David M. Levine Professor of Medicine and vice dean for clinical investigation in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, “someone who can give a bird’s-eye view of what’s changed within the CTSA network. What are some of the tools and problems that have emerged? He has his finger on the pulse of what is happening.”

Following Ford is Andy Coravos, co-founder and CEO of HumanFirst. Coravos is both an entrepreneur and someone who was involved with remote trials long before the pandemic.

“As someone outside the CTSA network, she brings a fresh perspective,” Hawk says. “She is very interested in shaping and imagining what the future of clinical trials might look like, in particular through the use of new technologies. I think she will help us to see not just where we have been, but where we might be going or could go.”

Next, Hawk will speak on remote trial methods from a translational science perspective, and then Dahne will look at one of the thorny issues related to the topic: identifying and preventing fraud in remote trials.

The next presenter, Eric Hekler, director of the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems and associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California San Diego, will consider how micro-randomized trials can allow researchers to optimize various remote trial methods in the service of ultimately implementing changes in the health care system and improving public health.

“Dr. Hekler’s work is focused on thinking not only about whether this intervention works or not, but on thinking about for whom this intervention works, in what context and at what time,” Dahne says, summarizing the topic as “personalized interventions that can be delivered remotely.”

The final speaker, Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institutes of Health, will focus on health disparities and the potential impact of remote trials on underrepresented groups. Murphy calls Perez-Stable’s participation particularly valuable in view of his expertise in the science of minority health and health disparities.

“Remote trials can be an excellent strategy for engaging populations who are traditionally excluded from the benefits of participating in clinical research,” Murphy explains. “This is a major focus of our CTSI, so I am especially excited to welcome Dr. Pérez-Stable to our workshop.”

Embracing virtual format

The workshop’s afternoon sessions are designed to offer attendees an interactive environment and will be facilitated by Andy Burnett, CEO and managing director of KnowInnovation.

The afternoon sessions are designed to foster a deeper level of understanding and thought for participants, and provide the opportunity to interact with others through the virtual platform. Participants will be putting into practice what they have learned, combined with their own experience.

Interestingly, the previous Creative Scientist Workshop in 2019 was also held virtually — one year before the pandemic. Organizers noticed that enrollment increased between an in-person workshop in 2017 and the virtual event in 2019. The 2021 workshop will be an even more streamlined and seamless experience, one that Hawk says will “maximize the benefits of a virtual workshop.”

To combat “Zoom fatigue,” Hawk says the workshop is a one-day event and the speaker sessions are between 20-30 minutes. It is all about enhancing the overall impact and providing attendees with an experience that may change the way they view — and run — trials in the future.

“We went into the workshop wanting to share perspectives on what for many of us was a fairly new phenomenon,” Hawk says. “Now, there is an opportunity to reflect as a collective on what we have learned, and then to think strategically about where we go next.”

For the full Creative Scientist Workshop agenda and to register, visit the CTSI website.