Pandemic Research – The COVID-19-program

The priority given by the Trond Mohn Foundation to research on questions relating to the coronavirus outbreak was a direct response to the Research Council of Norway’s urgent call for proposals in April 2020. It was already clear at that point that the world was in the throes of a serious pandemic, and research institutions in Norway were invited to take part in the work of analysing and finding solutions to this crisis.

– ‘Research is the key to addressing many of the major societal challenges we are facing. Norway has very many good research communities that can now do their utmost to understand and find solutions to the many aspects of the coronavirus crisis,’ said then CEO of the Research Council John-Arne Røttingen.

An urgent call for proposals for a total of NOK 130 million was issued for research on questions with relevance to dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. Seventy-eight research institutions submitted applications to the Research Council, and 30 projects were awarded funding. The Trond Mohn Foundation is contributing NOK 30 million to six of the research projects that were selected, see below. These projects all scored high in the Research Council’s quality assessments and in relation to the Foundation’s statutes, quality assessments and relevance criterion.

Research in the Wake of the Pandemic: A joint series of seminars

The Research Council, the Norwegian Cancer Society and the Trond Mohn Foundation established a joint series of seminars entitled “Research in the Wake of the Pandemic” to help highlight the results of COVID19 research, promote cross-disciplinary collaboration and thus give the initiative added value. The seminar series consists of a total of six seminars, including a closing seminar in September 2022. The fourth seminar will be arranged January 18th, program and registration will soon be published.

The projects supported by the Trond Mohn Foundation:

COVID-19 outbreak in Norway – Epidemiology, health care utilization and primary care management – CONOPRI

Tone Morken, Research Professor

Tone Morken, Research Professor

Primary care is at the very frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the outbreak already has a huge toll on primary care systems. Consequences of a global outbreak on the Norwegian primary care system have previously been demonstrated for the influenza pandemic. Knowledge about primary care management of COVID-19 outbreak, health care utilization and risk factors for severe outcome, can be used to prepare for future outbreaks and improve the patient management.

Primary care needs evidence-based knowledge to meet any epidemic at two levels: 1. The system level, which includes plans to handle an overwhelming number of patients, organization of units to avoid transmission to health care workers and other patients, systems for testing, tracing and isolation, as well as patient pathways through the health care system. 2. The clinical level, which includes knowledge about risk factors for severe illness, and mitigation of modifiable risk factors.

The primary study objective is to investigate the effect of organization strategies and handling of risk factors for the outcome of patients in primary care during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Secondary objectives are to:

  1. Identify patient management strategies in primary care and how this is organized in the municipalities in Norway during COVID-19 outbreak.
  2. Identify patient management strategies in European countries during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  3. Describe patient contacts to out-of-hours (OOH) services and action taken, and to compare the contacts and action taken between municipalities in Norway during COVID-19 outbreak.
  4. Examine how the COVID-19 patient utilize the health care system in Norway and identify different trajectories for COVID-19 patient outcome, compared with other patients.
  5. Investigate risk factors for severe outcomes of COVID-19 among primary care patients in Norway.

 

Perceived Risk and Precautions during a Pandemic Outbreak (PANDRISK)

Bjørn Sætrevik. Foto UiB

Researchers at the University of Bergen are conducting a social science study examining how the population handles the pandemic. The PANDRISK research project will measure, track and predict the impact of risk perception on precautionary behaviour, social dynamics and advice compliance through different stages of the pandemic. We will test whether psychological traits, such as optimism, motivation, and mental flexibility explain individual variation in people’s responses.

Seven rounds of nationally representative surveys were conducted with The Norwegian Citizen Panel to measure the variables over the course of 18 months from the pandemic outbreak in March 2020 to the removal of infection control measures in October 2021. These were supplemented with studies on former COVID-19 patients and people getting tested at various COVID-19 test sites in Bergen. In addition, the project has conducted qualitative interviews how risk, coping and measures like quarantine are experienced. In an international collaboration with King’s College (London) the project has developed a smartphone app to measure day-to-day experiences and mental health consequences of the pandemic outbreak. In combination, the project will provide a psychological foundation for understanding human responses to the pandemic outbreak.

A key objective of the PANDRISK project is to provide health authorities with actionable advice. By creating and sharing high quality knowledge, the project will enable authorities to better handle the current and future outbreaks. Specifically, the project will provide advice for public health management and promotion, public communication, and advice for “at-risk” groups. Another aim is to build the scientific knowledge base on human responses to threats. The project will provide open data sets, continuous pre-prints describing our findings, and peer-reviewed journal publications on different psychological aspects of the pandemic.

The work of the PANDRISK project will be led by the Operational psychology research group at the University of Bergen, with contributions from regional, national and international experts. We will collaborate with researchers at University of Columbia (New York) and King’s College (London) to collect data for international comparisons. The PANDRISK project has been collecting data since March 2020, and the project will continue until June 2022 through funding from the Trond Mohn Foundation.

For more information, see PANDRISK homepage.

COVID Communication: To fight a pandemic by communicating science (COVCOM POPSCI)

Professor Jo Røislien

Professor Jo Røislien Foto: Oda Hveem

An infectious disease is a special type of health challenge with its potential for rapid incidence growth. When dealing with such exponential growth regarding potential spread, if an imposed societal measure does not feel drastic, it may already be too late. This has strong implications for public health communication. Bringing about attitude change and acceptance for strict regulations requires explaining health science topics so that also nonexperts can quickly understand. How to go about to succeed at this is largely unknown. As media habits have changed, video has become a preferred medium constituting almost 80% of all internet traffic. Yet little is known about how to most effectively use video for relaying complex health messages.
Professor Jo Røislien at the Universitety of Stavanger leads the project COVCOM – POPSCI, and the aim of this study is to develop effective, evidence-based video communication for translating complex but important health messages about infectious diseases and pandemics, using COVID-19 as a case to learn and prepare society for handling also future pandemics. Creating effective science communication requires interdisciplinary collaboration, and the project will bring together health professionals and scholars, media creatives, psychologists, statisticians and professional communicators. The study population will include representatives from both the general public and decision makers as part of a holistic approach to how health related risk is understood and communicated on all levels. The general population is a heterogenous group and a one-size-fits-all solution is not to be expected.
Follow the project, publications and news at the project homepage.

A cohort-study of COVID-19

Professor Harleen Grewal at the Universitety of Bergen leads this project.The COVID 19-CAPNOR study brings together a multidisciplinary research team that seeks to conduct research that will contribute to containing COVID-19, optimizing patient management and preparedness to the curre and analogous outbreaks.

Harleen Grewal, foto: Anne Sidsel Herdlevær, UiB

The Bergen CAPNOR consortium recently received funding from the Research Council of Norway (NORCAP  288718) and the Trond Mohn foundation (RESPNOR 815276) to recruit patients hospitalized for community acquired pneumonia (CAP) at the Emergency Department (ED Haukeland University Hospital (HUS), Bergen, into a pragmatic randomize controlled trial (RCT) to assess the impact of comprehensive ultra-rapid, molecular diagnostics compared to current standard of care on a broad range of clinical outcomes. CAPNOR, comprising a preparatory pilot study and the RCT (n=1390) has received approval from the Regional Ethics Committee (REK; 31935). A limited pilot study (n=100 CAP patients) was successfully completed in February 2020. COVID-19 cannot be distinguished clinically from other pneumonias. We propose to rapidly leverage our knowledge-and-skill base as well as, the established research infrastructure at the ED, HUS (e.g. trained study staff, standardised eCRFs, optimised sampling, molecular diagnostics, biobanking) to include patients with suspected COVID-19 at the start of the epidemic in Norway. 

The patient-centred, opportunity driven cohort study will contribute to i) understanding natural history, disease severity and susceptibility; ii) identify groups at high risk of serious infection; iii) optimising sampling strategies and triage processes; iv) optimizing patient management; v) optimising virus detection, elucidating compartments of replication and mapping of antibody responses; vi) supporting capacity building, infection prevention and control measures and best practice to protect health care workers. 

 

 

COVID-19 infeksjon hos helsepersonell og generell befolkning

Professor Rebecca Cox, University of Bergen, is the PI of this project. The first case of COVID-19 infection was identified in Bergen on 28th February prior to the declaration of a pandemic on 11th March 2020. Rigorous testing of all suspected cases in the community was centralised in Bergen providing a unique opportunity to study the pandemicBuilding on our proven experience from the swine influenza pandemic, our interdisciplinary consortium covering the community, hospitals and Universities aims to understand key clinical, epidemiological, and immunological characteristics of COVID-19 infection in the general population, hospitalised patients and frontline healthcare workers (HCW).

We commenced our study on 6th March collecting baseline pre-exposure and demographics data and serum samples from 613 HCWThese HCW will be followed up upon suspected or confirmed COVID19 infection. All HCW will be followed up after 26 and 12 months to collect exposure history and serum samples for measurement of specific antibodiesWe are the first in Norway to establish serological assays and have confirmed that only infected people have antibodies and no antibodies are found in naive people. In the community, Exposure history and clinical symptoms and blood samples will be collected from all COVIID-19 positive cases and their household/close contactsWe have so far recruited 49 hospitalised patients and will describe the prognostic factors for severe and life-threatening illness and investigate immunological biomarkers for severe disease. We will define levels of population-based immunity to SARS-CoV-2 virus in HCW (exposed and/or infected)community cases and hospitalised patients and evaluate the durability of immunity.

Our immunological and epidemiological findings will provide vital information on the ability of the virus to spread in the Norwegian population and in health care services to meaningfully guide future policy decisions at a local, national and international level. 

MONOCOVID: Technologies for Monitoring COVID-19 Epidemiological Development

Nabil Belbachir, foto NORCE

Nabil Belbachir, Research Director, Smart Instrumentation and Industrial Testing, NORCE

The overall goal is to establish a baseline for new technologies and analytical tools that may support epidemiological observational studies with monitoring capabilities of COVID-19 in a high-risk environment e.g. hospitals to protect healthcare workers from transmission, and to create a safe working environment without contaminated areas, surfaces and objects. The recent findings from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UCLA and Princeton University show that the coronavirus can remain active in the air for up to 3 hours, on copper surfaces up to 4 hours, on paper surfaces up to 24 hours and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces. This requires urgent actions to develop technologies and techniques, which can be deployed in healthcare centres to identify potentially infected areas. It is very important to emphasize that this system is not intended for medical diagnosis, as this requires examination of symptoms on a patient and should validated by physical and laboratory tests together with a doctor’s assessment.

This research project aims to explore the potential and limitations of using a VIS-IR spectroscopic system to measure spectral characteristics in e.g. hospital environments and support epidemiological observations on contamination risk as well as supporting infection prevention and control. The effective application of the proposed methodology may be able to support monitoring infectiousness and support preventing the transmission events.  With respect to the eight immediate research actions of WHO in February 2020, this project is focusing on action 4, 5 and 8 to support the epidemiological studies. The consortium consists of technical partners and collaborators (NORCE, NEO, Telops) for hyperspectral imaging, computer vision and machine learning, medical experts (UiB, Haukeland university hospital) for influenza, and viral infections and international labs for clinical analysis.

 

Sveinung Hole, photo Paul S. Amundsen

Norwegian research communities are world-leading and they are already making a broad contribution to our overcoming and learning from this crisis. We are delighted to be able to contribute to intensifying the work being done in this joint national effort,’ says Sveinung Hole, CEO of the Trond Mohn Foundation.

 

Foto:

Bent Høie photo Bjørn Studeland

‘In the last two months, we have witnessed a huge mobilisation by Norwegian and international research communities. A lot of research has been initiated on the coronavirus outbreak, but it will be a long time until we can put the pandemic behind us. The more knowledge we gain, the sooner, safer and more flexibly we will get through this crisis,’ says Bent Høie, Minister of Health and Care Services.

See the list of all projects that have been awarded funding through this call.

Ingress photo: Pexels -Gustavo Fring

 

 

 

 

 

 

The COVID19 program in short

Program period: 2020-2022

Emergency Call by RCN
TMS-funding: MAX 5 MNOK/project

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