An open letter to the neuro-community: The need for a roundtable approach to manage neurodisorders during COVID-19

By: Yotam Drechsler

An open letter to the neuro-community: The need for a roundtable approach to manage neurodisorders during COVID-19

1 billion people around the world are currently suffering from neurological disorders, and the number is growing by the day. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant negative impact on the healthcare system’s ability to effectively diagnose and treat these individuals. However, despite the growing numbers, action has not been taken by world leaders, creating a huge unmet need.

This is perhaps the most significant collateral damage that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, and the extent of the damage has still not been truly assessed. This reality may just seem like a symptom of the pandemic now, but it could leave a harmful effect on society in the long run if things don’t begin to change. The implications may stay with us for decades to come.

Recently published evidence indicates that the growing number of people suffering from neurodisorders might actually be a result of COVID-19. On top of this shocking finding, supplemental studies show that having a preexisting neurological disorder can increase complications from COVID-19. 

Additionally, the overloaded medical system is lacking in the ability to efficiently diagnose and treat this population. For example, during the pandemic stroke patients experience a fairly inefficient patient pathway when seeking medical attention. More and more stroke patients are being misdiagnosed when presenting with virus-related symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, which could be symptoms of many different conditions. This, coupled with the fact that people are hesitant to enter medical facilities in the first place, results in many patients living with neurological diseases and not receiving the proper care they need for symptom management or recovery.

We will see the collateral damage of this unmet need for years to come

The current standards of care for both diagnosis and treatment are not sufficiently designed to adapt to the COVID-19 climate, and evidence of this reality continues to surface. The pandemic has put significant pressure on the ability to deliver proper treatments for many neurological diseases. While the scope of the implications of the healthcare system’s failure is still unknown, we know it isn’t positive. Nowadays stroke victims face a very different reality when entering a hospital to receive treatment. This has caused a significant decrease in hospital attendance in stroke victims, which can result in a potentially life threatening outcome. Additionally, their rehabilitation options are often now cut short by doctors to mitigate their risk of contracting the virus. When once common practice meant that neurologists would send stroke victims to recover in a rehabilitation facility for neuro-physical therapy and the like, now they are sent home as soon as possible with few rehab prospects. 

Other neurodisorder patients are also facing this harsh reality. For example, multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who are generally older, are more hesitant to enter a medical facility during this time which has resulted in many delays in diagnosis and treatment. For patients who are just now showing symptoms, they are looking at a challenging road ahead to even receive a diagnosis and then find a consistent treatment regimen that works for them.

It’s become apparent that the pandemic has accelerated the need to redefine the course of diagnosing and prescribing therapeutic solutions in general. This can only be accomplished by leveraging the most significant advancements noted in technology and neuroscience in recent years. 

Accelerating the creation of a new-age neurorecovery solution

Conquering neurodisorders is the ultimate scientific frontier, and while there are few innovative solutions for treating neurodisorders that are currently being developed, none have made it through to market. COVID-19 has accelerated the need for the development of a solution to treat neurodisorders and highlighted the concept that this cannot be achieved with traditional measures. 

On the other hand, COVID-19 has taught humankind a great lesson on how to create a fast-tracked collaborative approach for identifying a vaccine for the virus. This mindset must be applied to neurodisorder research and management immediately. It’s not just about maintaining the existing frontiers of neuro-research in light of the challenges stemming from Covid, rather it’s about using the pandemic to accelerate the path to curing diseases and for better disease management tools.

We must take it one step further and apply the collaborative mindset to solve this crisis. 

By organizing a roundtable discussion with experts from all fields such as AI, data science, neuroscience, etc., we can apply the same collaborative principles and come up with novel solutions in the neuro-community.

Society on all fronts must make the shift from working in silos to producing collaborative research as one unit. The same way that world leaders considered the state of their economies prior to implementing social restrictions and workplace shutdowns during the pandemic, so too should they consider the implications of the pandemic on the 1 billion people with neurodisorders being affected daily.

While there are some small initiatives taking place, mainly in the Telehealth industry, they don’t have the capability or backing to really take off and be applied universally. 

An integrative approach is needed to create a treatment that is both accessible for this population and effective for treating brain disorders. This approach includes:

A roundtable of expert perspectives: Experts from all disciplines who can pool their resources together to identify the need for an integrative approach. The top biologists, neuroscientists, MDs, PhDs, epidemiologists, and regulatory bodies have agreed on the key challenges and priorities in order to identify an integrative approach as the best possible solution for this unmet need.

Multidisciplinary task forces: The goal of these task forces will be for each expert to apply their unique perspectives and wisdom to work together to create a multidisciplinary solution that is tailored to fit patients’ needs in light of the new reality.

Setting the infrastructure for a rapid path of solutions directly to patients: 

  • Setting an incentivizing mechanism in place for researchers looking to get their names out there or for growing startups.
  • Fast-tracking regulatory approval to market is a must, and regulatory bodies have already shown that they are willing to be somewhat flexible during these times.
  • Forming networks of information is crucial to ensuring a linear model of growth. Organizing information-sharing pathways will enable experts from each discipline to continue to share their discoveries thereby helping one another to expand on this research.

The future is bright for the world of neurorecovery, as long as we continue to evolve and adapt our outlooks as new curveballs are thrown at us from every direction.