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Urgency of COVID-19 research put research for other diseases on hold

Jake Meets His Mice
Posted at 12:57 PM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-13 12:58:04-04

Vaccines, antibody therapies, pills. COVID-19 treatments have been the focus of a lot of healthcare research over the past two years.

“I wish we would have been way more advanced at this point,” Dr. Cecilia Caino, an associate professor of pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said. She is also part of the cancer center.

The focus on COVID and related health restrictions put labs like this one behind.

“We were all sent home for about three months, and then we were allowed to start returning on a phased-in status,” Dr. Caino said. “Our type of work really requires us to be in the lab and engaged.”

Dr. Caino and her team are working on understanding more about how metastatic cancer, cancer that has spread in the body, becomes deadly for patients, specifically metastatic prostate cancer.

“We were recently able to communicate the results, and we actually found out this was a really important target to prevent metastatic dissemination. So I wish we hadn't lost those two years in terms of what the benefit might be for patients,” she said.

It’s not just research for cancer that was put on pause during the pandemic.

The research is so important because there's not really a treatment right now,” Christopher Attar said. For the Attar family, every day counts as they wait for an approved treatment or cure for their son.

“Chris and I have a son named Brady, and Brady has epidermolysis bullosa. It’s known as EB,” Eileen Attar said.“He is lacking functioning collagen 7, which is a protein that helps keep our layers of skin together.”

Eileen and Chris have to do wound care every day. These special bandages help him heal and protect his skin.

“The average life span is 30 years. Without a cure and without the research for a cure, then that's still going to be what it is for kids going forward,” Christopher said.

Currently, there are at least five treatments in the pipeline. They include treatments like a synthetic form of collagen or a topical gel therapy, like the one from Krystal Biotech. It’s waiting on FDA approval. A cure would involve changing the DNA to correct the mutation.

“I think we’ve been set back probably a year and a half, two years because they have to reset all the projects they lost the information for in the beginning,” Christopher explained.

While EB is considered a rare disease, impacting a small percentage of the population. The National Institutes of Health estimates more than 7,000 rare diseases are out there. Not all have treatments or cures.

“You’re waiting, and you put your hope in these new technologies that come out and all this research, and then something like COVID hits, and it's so hard for everyone in general,” Christopher said.

“The economy is reopening, the campuses are reopening, and the research is progressing,” Paul Joseph, the CFO for the EB Medical Research Foundation, said. The foundation raises funds to help find a cure for EB. “Eighteen years ago, there was nothing. It was just put a couple [of] bandages on them and let me know how it goes. Here we are now, and we’re on the cusp of almost five approved treatments.”

As research labs return to normal, Eileen has hope for what’s to come.

“We really believe that there is going to be healing in the future,” Eileen Attar said.