RSU Researchers Start Working on National Research Programme to Mitigate Consequences of COVID-19 by Raising 1.33m Euros
Seven projects will be implemented by the end of the year by epidemiologists, infectologists, public health professionals, molecular biologists, pharmacists, biochemists, bioinformaticians, lawyers, economists, political scientists, psychologists, communications specialists and other researchers from Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). The projects have just been approved by the Latvian Council of Science (LCS) within the framework of the national research programme for the mitigation of the consequences of COVID-19. RSU will be managing three of the projects and a partner in four.
The overarching goal of the national research programme launched by LCS is to limit the spread of the COVID-19, protect the population and urgently resume economic activity and social life by implementing high-readiness research projects. Research is being carried out in three thematic areas: health care and public health, engineering solutions, as well as the national economy and public welfare. A total of 10 projects are expected to be implemented by 31 December 2020, which, as reported by LCS, have been highly appreciated by international scientific experts (the average consolidated expertise review is 12.98 out of 15 possible points). Nearly 5m euros from the national budget have been earmarked for mobilising science to fight the virus.
In terms of funding, the largest of RSU’s projects is the project lead by Asst. Prof. Anda Ķīvīte-Urtāne, lead researcher at the RSU Institute for Public Health “Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health care system and public health in Latvia; strengthening the preparedness of the health sector for future epidemics”. In this project, RSU researchers in cooperation with experts from the University of Latvia and the BA School of Business and Finance will assess how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected health and access to health services for different population groups in Latvia: children, people of child-bearing age, elderly people and people with chronic diseases. Special emphasis will be placed on mental health. As part of this project, work will be carried out in parallel in five directions – looking at how COVID-19 has affected Latvia’s healthcare system and public health in general, how it has affected psychical, sexual and reproductive health of Latvian citizens, how the pandemic has affected residents over 50 years of age, and how COVID-19 has affected the quality of children’s lives and access to care, including for chronically ill children. As a result, recommendations will be developed for the Ministry of Health and other organisations, looking back at good practices and making recommendations for future crisis situations, says project manager Ķīvīte-Urtāne.
A more extensive project will be implemented under the auspices of the Head of the Department of Infectology, Prof. Ludmila Vīksna: “Clinical, biochemical, immunogenetic paradigms of Covid-19 infection and their correlation with factors of socio-demographic, etiological, pathogenic, diagnostic, therapeutic and prognostic importance to be included in the guidelines”. ‘Latvia has managed to avoid a large number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in an effective, successful and professional way compared to many other countries. However, knowing that the disease in many other countries claimed a huge number of people’s lives and knowing the importance of comprehensive and extensive research, funds have been allocated in our country to scientific research of SARS CoV-2 and COVID-19 with a view to exploring the factors that have drawn Latvian residents into the pandemic on a smaller case than in other countries. The study will show whether our population has any special conditions or genes that might affect the severity of the course of the disease. We will study the consequences of the disease on the health of the infected people and the specific biochemical, immunogenetic and radiological mechanisms of development of COVID-19, which are still little known or unknown. It is important to clarify how important the impact of accompanying infectious diseases is and essential to clarify all this in order to determine preventative actions that can be taken. Likewise, it is essential to clarify the importance of characteristic features of SARS CoV-2, the diversity of antibodies, the time of development and resilience,’ says Prof. Vīksna.
The third study in which RSU is a leading partner is the project implemented Alise Tīfentāle, a researcher at the RSU Department of Communication – “Life with Covid-19: an assessment of overcoming the crisis caused by the coronavirus in Latvia and proposals for the resilience of society in the future”. Research in this project will be carried out in three directions: behaviour patterns, value transformation, social processes and possible structural changes of the Latvian society in crisis and post-crisis conditions; promoting media literacy in society and preventing disinformation, promoting civil responsibility and social participation; digital transformation of the education sector at all levels of education, using artificial intelligence and augmented reality technologies and developing innovative approaches.
RSU researchers are also involved in four other projects related to both epidemiological research and the establishment of a common data platform, as well as the integration of safe technologies to protect against COVID-19 and the development of solutions for the resilience of the Latvian economy to the crisis caused by the pandemic and post-crisis development opportunities.
‘This is a unique research programme in Latvia – very dynamic, interdisciplinary and focusing on extensive cooperation between different Latvian research institutions. I am proud of the RSU researchers who have responded to the call and quickly handed in their applications. “Homework” has also played an important role – in the early phase of the emergency situation our researchers created a database with potential research topics that could be implemented at RSU in the context of the pandemic, continually supplementing it. They also participated in a COVID-19 research platform organised by LCS. We should also thank the Boris and Inara Teterev Foundation for providing funding for enabling the involvement of COVID-19 patients – biological samples and phenotypic data is being collected from patients treated at the Latvian Centre of Infectious Diseases within the scope of a biobank. The samples will continue to be used for virus and disease research. When the national research programme was announced, the fact that researchers had ideas and projects in place and had all the necessary permits for collecting and using patient samples helped us to mobilise quickly,’ says Liene Ņikitina-Zaķe, the Director of the RSU Research Department, who expressed her satisfaction that all 10 projects approved under the national research programme are complementary to each other. For example, samples or information are collected within one project, while another project develops a sequenced virus, and a third project studies various factors related to the manifestations of the virus in the body using data from both the first and the second projects. Interaction and data exchange will also take place between medical, healthcare and social science projects. The projects also enable close cooperation with representatives from various ministries. In addition, the resulting data will be available for use by other researchers and to the general public.