Identifying the opportunities and challenges for responsible, inclusive and equitable COVID-19 systems biology research

Responsible innovation and COVID-19: integrating social science insights for more inclusive, equitable and impactful 'systems biology' research

Project Duration: August 2020 to September 2022

Effects of coronavirus on the lungs, heart and brain

Credit: iStock/Leestat

Responsibility, inclusivity and diversity in COVID-19 research

The Challenge

COVID-19 has been the most significant health and economic shock of recent decades, and collaborative research is vital to our collective response. Through understanding the design, context and progress of COVID-19 research across multiple disciplines, we can positively influence how ongoing and future studies during a pandemic are conducted.

CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) and Precision Health and Responsible Innovation Future Science Platforms (FSPs) have come together in a new partnership. The joint CSIRO team will work with Deakin University and Barwon Health through the ‘Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases’ on a project that will undertake a comparative observational study of the long-term, biological, physiological and psychological consequences of sufferers of COVID-19. CSIRO is providing expertise in systems biology to connect multi-omics profile analyses of affected individuals with their clinical results. CSIRO is also contributing expertise in the social sciences to promote ethical and responsible innovation in the study.

The aim of this project is to understand how COVID-19 researchers view and incorporate issues of vulnerability, responsibility, equity and diversity within their research. The study also includes understanding participant experiences of these long-term studies and the effects on their physical and mental health. This qualitative data can inform the improved design of future research projects to make them responsive to diverse populations.

Responding to the Challenge

Through our CSIRO-ANU Collaboration on Responsible Innovation, the RI FSP is supporting Postdoctoral Fellow John Noel Viana to engage with this key CSIRO systems biology initiative focused on COVID-19.

John is contributing his knowledge and research experience in the social sciences, bioethics and responsible innovation to biomedical research team. Aside from attending regular meetings, he is visiting CSIRO and partner laboratories to directly engage with scientists to better understand their research decision-making and collaboration processes. John is investigating perspectives about the innovation process, particularly as it relates to how responsibility, inclusivity, ethics, diversity and vulnerability influence research design, conduct and progression. Key research topics being addressed through his work include:

  1. The conceptualisation and enactment of COVID-19 studies.
  2. The key individual and institutional actors, and the collaborations needed to successfully initiate and conduct research during a pandemic.
  3. The generation of research questions.
  4. The identification and recruitment of participants during a pandemic, their motivations for participation, and their insights about participation.
  5. The wider equity and inclusion implications of COVID-19 research.

Project Impacts

This research will document how issues of vulnerability, responsibility, equity and diversity are or can be better incorporated into clinical research and innovation environments during a pandemic to create more equitable outcomes for the public.

There are long-term plans to extend this research to create tools that can better predict disease prognosis in COVID-19 affected individuals and their likelihood of infecting other household members. Such tools would also assist in developing an affordable treatment option, which is a major unmet need that affects health equity. The RI FSP will contribute to tool development by ensuring that they account for diversity in the Australian population, considering the equity implications of cultural, linguistic and economic differences in the progression of disease within households.

Team

CSIRO: John Noel Viana, Marcus Barber, Lucy Carter, and Seshadri Vasan (Project Leader).

More information relating to this project is available as follows:

CSIROScope, Meet our researcher Prof. S.S. Vasan – https://blog.csiro.au/meet-the-researcher-prof-vasan/

CSIRO, Coronavirus and infectious disease research, Vaccine testing: https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Health/Infectious-diseases-coronavirus/Fighting-the-virus/Vaccine-testing

CSIRO, Coronavirus and infectious disease research: https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Health/Infectious-diseases-coronavirus

CSIRO, Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP): https://www.csiro.au/en/Showcase/ACDP