More Coronavirus Research Needed to Fill Treatment Gaps

Culture, language, and ethnicity are barriers to broader research participation

Checking temp of patient

Working to expand coronavirus research, Duke Health COVID-19 specialists are asking physicians to direct patients with the virus or its aftereffects toward well-established research projects designed to accelerate treatment options.

The need for effective coronavirus treatments designed for at-risk groups remains a major concern, researchers say. Gaps in existing research—particularly evident among underserved populations or those facing language or cultural barriers—present challenges in large-scale disease assessment.

Approximately 10% of patients with the coronavirus develops long-haul COVID, a persistent, high-risk condition that presents treatment challenges. In addition to the number of vaccine breakthrough cases, physicians and researchers are studying factors that make people with diabetes more vulnerable to COVID-19. Some patients with the coronavirus develop sudden onset diabetes although they have no history of the disease.

“The only way out of this pandemic is through sustained research,” says Jamie Roberts, MPH, MA, senior staff director of the Duke Clinical & Translational Science Institute’s Clinical Recruitment Innovation and Research Networks Core. “Research led us to the vaccines, and research has helped us identify some effective therapies, but we still have more to do to improve prevention and treatment.”

Working from the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Roberts, who was a clinical nurse, supports a network of researchers across Duke who are focused on many diseases. But her primary emphasis this year has been supporting awareness of and recruitment to COVID-19 research.

COVID-19-related Trials at Duke

Information about coronavirus-related trials can be found at the Duke Health COVID-19 Directory, a website designed to link patients to ongoing COVID research. The landing page features simple, quick-view descriptions of research opportunities for patients, family members, and providers. Options are provided in Spanish and English.

Roberts says her team wants to create an “easy button” to direct physicians and patients toward existing research and encourage participation. Roberts says increasing the number of patients in trials related to the coronavirus has proven challenging.

A key emphasis of the research is examining treatment options and efficacy for specific populations with distinctive personal characteristics, lifestyles, or pre-existing conditions. “Researchers are looking for the factors that help patients respond to treatment," says Roberts, suggesting that patients with distinctive genetics or comorbidities may benefit from different treatments. “The only way we will know what treatments work for various populations or groups is if we engage and encourage them to participate in research studies designed to help scientists identify the right treatments for the right patients. We are working hard to make sure we are reaching as broad a population as possible but we also need the help of providers seeing patients and ordering COVID tests for them.”

“Our effort is focused on reinforcing the message to busy providers that research may be a care option for the patient who has COVID. The research is important to help find and implement better treatment options for patients in the future,” Roberts adds.

Roberts says physicians or patients can reach out to the team by sending an email to or calling 919-681-5698.