COVID-19 & Research Restart

OVCR Research-Related Updates Regarding COVID-19 Emergency and Research Restart

Information for Campus Research Restart

Updated: June 29, 2020

June 8th Phase 3 of Restore Illinois  and of the City of Chicago 5 stage Protecting Chicago COVID-19 recovery plan has allowed a limited return to research activity on the UIC campus.  During Phase 3, UIC faculty, employees and trainees (including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows) who are approved to return have resumed work as laboratories and other research facilities open. Phase 3 limits all visitors to the UIC campus. Each College-affiliated research building is opening following its approval by EHSO. All updates described below can be found on the OVCR landing pages.

Phase 3 of Restore Illinois  and of the City of Chicago 5 stage Protecting Chicago COVID-19 recovery plan has permitted the return of UIC researchers back to campus and the re-activation of non-human subjects research that cannot be performed remotely. This is occurring slowly, with labs returning at about 1/3 capacity during the first weeks of June. During Phase 4, anticipated for July 2020, human subjects research involving volunteer subjects at the University will restart in a limited capacity. Currently, ongoing human subjects studies remain limited to therapeutic trials with drugs or interventional strategies that are part of ongoing clinical care delivery, and those studies that were previously or have been approved to be performed remotely.

OVCR has evaluated strategies to reactivate our human subjects research portfolio and established a COVID-19 Research Recovery Committee in collaboration with the UIC Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences to help investigators and Deans prioritize IRB-approved studies for reopening. Study PIs who have protocols they are ready to restart will be asked to identify their study’s risks and benefits in several areas, including: the nature of study procedures; the risk profile of their research subjects; whether the study offers subjects direct benefit or risks to subjects; whether or not some or all study procedures can be accomplished within 6’ physical distancing and masking requirements; and whether the protocol supports early career investigators. These will be reviewed by a committee of faculty researchers from across the University, and assigned a risk level to sequence those human subjects protocols to restart first.  In addition, an infection control assessment will determine the risks of a study presents to subjects and staff, and the level of PPE needed to conduct the research as safely as possible. All studies that require contact (<6 foot distance) between investigators or staff and research subjects must use appropriate PPE for these planned contacts. This includes ensuring the availability of an adequate supply of PPE to conduct the research, staff training in donning and doffing PPE safely, including the use of surgical masks, gowns and gloves, and when appropriate, face shields and/or fit-tested N95 masks. The opening of on-line submission for review will begin on Monday, June 22.

OVCR Offices of Sponsored Programs (OSP), Research Development Services and Postdoctoral Research, and the Office for the Protection of Research Subjects (OPRS) continue to provide all regular services. Similarly, all other compliance areas (conflict of interest/affiliation, export control, IACUC and IBC, and research integrity) are fully operational.

BRL is operating at regular levels of services and capacity for new projects and orders. Building safety, entrance and health requirements for working in the facilities are posted at entrances. We continue to work with EHSO, the COM and the Department for Microbiology and Immunology to establish a BRL-affiliated BSL3 facility for SARS/COV-2 pathogen studies. The SARS/COV-2 BSL3 facility will be available for appropriately trained researchers across campus following externally contracted decontamination, certification and some further repairs, estimated to be completed by the end of June.

RRC cores have reopened for all projects, although we caution that most shared service facilities will operate at slightly lower capacity to provide services due to new guidelines for physical distancing, staffing and PPE. Some sample drop-offs and protocols may vary in order to lower risk of COVID-19 transmission for staff and researchers. Procedures for trained users of RRC instrumentation will be available in each facility.  The Research Informatics Core will continue at its regular capacity. Any questions for BRL and RRC services should be sent to Dr. Jeff Fortman and/or the VCR.

Eight working groups of faculty representing each College have completed 2-3 meetings each to define the questions and needs for research within UIC in clinical studies, public health and social sciences, community engagement, translational research (including BSL3-related research, animal models, drug discovery and the entrepreneurial pipeline), STEM disciplines, data science, projects in the arts and humanities, and research considerations for junior faculty and trainees. These working groups summaries have been used to inform next steps and address concerns of research faculty, staff and trainees. Safety protocols will continue to be overseen by EHSO. Safety protocols will continue to be overseen by EHSO; all relevant questions and considerations identified by the faculty working groups are being reviewed and addressed.

As of 6.17.20, OSP has accepted funding for 35 awards related to COVID-19 studies or recovery opportunities (including 3 NSF-Fast Track Awards), executed 21 data use, collaborative and non-disclosure agreements that are COVID-19-related, and has submitted or preparing submissions for 89 COVID-19-related proposals. As of 6.17.20, OPRS has approved 29 of 33 COVID-19-related protocols. These include five approved clinical trials and a significant number of Registries and secondary analyses related to COVID-19. OPRS has approved or is in process of review for 76 amendments and prompt reports and submissions secondary to COVID-19 aims, and has approved 69 exemptions and determinations; 8 are pending approval.