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Knowledge graphs have become a common approach for knowledge representation. Yet, the application of graph methodology is elusive due to the sheer number and complexity of knowledge sources. In addition, semantic incompatibilities hinder efforts to harmonize and integrate across these diverse sources. As part of The Biomedical Translator Consortium, we have developed a knowledge graph–based question-answering system designed to augment human reasoning and accelerate translational scientific discovery: the Translator system. We have applied the Translator system to answer biomedical questions in the context of a broad array of diseases and syndromes, including Fanconi anemia, primary ciliary dyskinesia, multiple sclerosis, and others. A variety of collaborative approaches have been used to research and develop the Translator system. One recent approach involved the establishment of a monthly “Question-of-the-Month (QotM) Challenge” series. Herein, we describe the structure of the QotM Challenge; the six challenges that have been conducted to date on drug-induced liver injury, cannabidiol toxicity, coronavirus infection, diabetes, psoriatic arthritis, and ATP1A3-related phenotypes; the scientific insights that have been gleaned during the challenges; and the technical issues that were identified over the course of the challenges and that can now be addressed to foster further development of the prototype Translator system. We close with a discussion on Large Language Models such as ChatGPT and highlight differences between those models and the Translator system.
Contracting delays remain a challenge to the successful initiation of multisite clinical research in the US. The Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Contracts Processing Study showed average contract negotiation duration of > 100 days for industry-sponsored or investigator-initiated contracts. Such delays create enormous costs to sponsors and to patients waiting to use new evidence-based treatments. With support from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the Accelerated Clinical Trial Agreement (ACTA) was developed by 25 major academic institutions and medical centers engaged in clinical research in collaboration with the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership and with input from pharmaceutical companies. The ACTA also informed the development of subsequent agreements, including the Federal Demonstration Partnership Clinical Trial Subaward Agreement (FDP-CTSA); both ACTA and the FDP-CTSA are largely non-negotiable agreements that represent pre-negotiated compromises in contract terms agreed upon by industry and/or medical center stakeholders. When the involved parties agree to use the CTSA-developed and supported standard agreement templates as a starting point for negotiations, there can be significant time savings for trials. Use of the ACTA resulted in an average savings of 48 days and use of the FDP-CTSA saved an average of 57 days of negotiation duration.
Clinical trials continue to face significant challenges in participant recruitment and retention. The Recruitment Innovation Center (RIC), part of the Trial Innovation Network (TIN), has been funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health to develop innovative strategies and technologies to enhance participant engagement in all stages of multicenter clinical trials. In collaboration with investigator teams and liaisons at Clinical and Translational Science Award institutions, the RIC is charged with the mission to design, field-test, and refine novel resources in the context of individual clinical trials. These innovations are disseminated via newsletters, publications, a virtual toolbox on the TIN website, and RIC-hosted collaboration webinars. The RIC has designed, implemented, and promised customized recruitment support for 173 studies across many diverse disease areas. This support has incorporated site feasibility assessments, community input sessions, recruitment materials recommendations, social media campaigns, and an array of study-specific suggestions. The RIC’s goal is to evaluate the efficacy of these resources and provide access to all investigating teams, so that more trials can be completed on time, within budget, with diverse participation, and with enough accrual to power statistical analyses and make substantive contributions to the advancement of healthcare.
Barriers to research participation by racial and ethnic minority group members are multi-factorial, stem from historical social injustices and occur at participant, research team, and research process levels. The informed consent procedure is a key component of the research process and represents an opportunity to address these barriers. This manuscript describes the development of the Strengthening Translational Research in Diverse Enrollment (STRIDE) intervention, which aims to improve research participation by individuals from underrepresented groups.
We used a community-engaged approach to develop an integrated, culturally, and literacy-sensitive, multi-component intervention that addresses barriers to research participation during the informed consent process. This approach involved having Community Investigators participate in intervention development activities and using community engagement studios and other methods to get feedback from community members on intervention components.
The STRIDE intervention has three components: a simulation-based training program directed toward clinical study research assistants that emphasizes cultural competency and communication skills for assisting in the informed consent process, an electronic consent (eConsent) framework designed to improve health-related research material comprehension and relevance, and a “storytelling” intervention in which prior research participants from diverse backgrounds share their experiences delivered via video vignettes during the consent process.
The community engaged development approach resulted in a multi-component intervention that addresses known barriers to research participation and can be integrated into the consent process of research studies. Results of an ongoing study will determine its effectiveness at increasing diversity among research participants.
The use of online platforms for pediatric healthcare research is timely, given the current pandemic. These platforms facilitate trial efficiency integration including electronic consent, randomization, collection of patient/family survey data, delivery of an intervention, and basic data analysis.
We created an online digital platform for a multicenter study that delivered an intervention for sleep disorders to parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). An advisory parent group provided input. Participants were randomized to receive either a sleep education pamphlet only or the sleep education pamphlet plus three quick-tips sheets and two videos that reinforced the material in the pamphlet (multimedia materials). Three measures – Family Inventory of Sleep Habits (FISH), Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire modified for ASD (CSHQ-ASD), and Parenting Sense of Competence (PSOC) – were completed before and after 12 weeks of sleep education.
Enrollment exceeded recruitment goals. Trial efficiency was improved, especially in data entry and automatic notification of participants related to survey completion. Most families commented favorably on the study. While study measures did not improve with treatment in either group (pamphlet or multimedia materials), parents reporting an improvement of ≥3 points in the FISH score showed a significantly improved change in the total CSHQ (P = 0.038).
Our study demonstrates the feasibility of using online research delivery platforms to support studies in ASD, and more broadly, pediatric clinical and translational research. Online platforms may increase participant inclusion in enrollment and increase convenience and safety for participants and study personnel.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a devastating rare disease that affects individuals regardless of ethnicity, gender, and age. The first-approved disease-modifying therapy for SMA, nusinursen, was approved by Health Canada, as well as by American and European regulatory agencies following positive clinical trial outcomes. The trials were conducted in a narrow pediatric population defined by age, severity, and genotype. Broad approval of therapy necessitates close follow-up of potential rare adverse events and effectiveness in the larger real-world population.
The Canadian Neuromuscular Disease Registry (CNDR) undertook an iterative multi-stakeholder process to expand the existing SMA dataset to capture items relevant to patient outcomes in a post-marketing environment. The CNDR SMA expanded registry is a longitudinal, prospective, observational study of patients with SMA in Canada designed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of novel therapies and provide practical information unattainable in trials.
The consensus expanded dataset includes items that address therapy effectiveness and safety and is collected in a multicenter, prospective, observational study, including SMA patients regardless of therapeutic status. The expanded dataset is aligned with global datasets to facilitate collaboration. Additionally, consensus dataset development aimed to standardize appropriate outcome measures across the network and broader Canadian community. Prospective outcome studies, data use, and analyses are independent of the funding partner.
Prospective outcome data collected will provide results on safety and effectiveness in a post-therapy approval era. These data are essential to inform improvements in care and access to therapy for all SMA patients.
The updated common rule, for human subjects research, requires that consents “begin with a ‘concise and focused’ presentation of the key information that will most likely help someone make a decision about whether to participate in a study” (Menikoff, Kaneshiro, Pritchard. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2017; 376(7): 613–615.). We utilized a community-engaged technology development approach to inform feature options within the REDCap software platform centered around collection and storage of electronic consent (eConsent) to address issues of transparency, clinical trial efficiency, and regulatory compliance for informed consent (Harris, et al. Journal of Biomedical Informatics 2009; 42(2): 377–381.). eConsent may also improve recruitment and retention in clinical research studies by addressing: (1) barriers for accessing rural populations by facilitating remote consent and (2) cultural and literacy barriers by including optional explanatory material (e.g., defining terms by hovering over them with the cursor) or the choice of displaying different videos/images based on participant’s race, ethnicity, or educational level (Phillippi, et al. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing. 2018; 47(4): 529–534.).
We developed and pilot tested our eConsent framework to provide a personalized consent experience whereby users are guided through a consent document that utilizes avatars, contextual glossary information supplements, and videos, to facilitate communication of information.
The eConsent framework includes a portfolio of eight features, reviewed by community stakeholders, and tested at two academic medical centers.
Early adoption and utilization of this eConsent framework have demonstrated acceptability. Next steps will emphasize testing efficacy of features to improve participant engagement with the consent process.