Otolaryngologic Research During COVID-19
The fact that COVID-19 resulted in a burst of research and publishing on the impact of the disease on otolaryngologic care is clear. “It catalyzed writing about the clinical part of COVID-19, such as how to organize teams, how to protect providers, how to triage cases, and then a bit of a flurry of information regarding surgical techniques to potentially decrease the risk of transmission,” said Andrew H. Murr, MD, professor and chair in the department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. “What was shut down was clinical research, and bench research in particular was severely harmed.”
Explore This IssueJuly 2021
Harms to bench research, Dr. Murr explained, were caused by changes in funding and limitations on researchers physically engaging in laboratory work due to multiple layers of regulations. He cited research funds being withdrawn, in some cases by government agencies that were no longer confident in researchers’ abilities to fulfill the original timelines of their grants and, in other cases, by private industry because of disrupted budgets. Regulations from the federal level down to the department level limited time in the lab for a variety of reasons, including density issues and research involving animal models expiring, incurring a high financial cost.
Maie A. St. John, MD, PhD, professor in the department of head and neck surgery, the Thomas C. Calcaterra Chair in Head and Neck Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and co-director of the UCLA Head and Neck Cancer Program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles, saw an initial period of research being put on hold, followed by a boom period of research focusing on COVID-19. She also saw a surge in research overall. “COVID-19 created a renaissance of research such that people who usually don’t write papers and aren’t a part of the academic scholarship all of a sudden became part of the conversation,” she said.
This renaissance created a net-positive balance of research during the pandemic, she said. “I think the COVID era may have slowed down some primary research, but I think more people came to the table,” said Dr. St. John. She cited the increase in international multidisciplinary research teams that brought together public health, population health, and basic science research to develop vaccines.
I think the COVID era may have slowed down some primary research, but I think more people came to the table. —Maie A. St. John, MD, PhD
Viewing research submissions through a different lens as editor-in-chief of The Laryngoscope, Samuel Selesnick, MD, professor and vice chairman of the department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York City, said that he saw an uptick in submissions to the journal during the pandemic that he attributed to people having more time to devote to research—and that most of the submissions were research not related to COVID-19. “There were real repercussions from the pandemic on medical publishing, but, at least at The Laryngoscope, not as much negative as positive,” he said.
Editor-in-chief of Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology D. Bradley Welling, MD, PhD, the Walter Augustus Lecompte Distinguished Professor of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and a physician and surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, also cited an increase in research published in his journal during 2020, with the majority unrelated to COVID-19. “We had an increase in the overall publication rate of 49% in 2020, up from 2019, and COVID-related submissions accounted for only 14% of all manuscripts submitted and 8.6% of research published,” he said.
Dr. Welling also attributed the higher number of submissions to the many academic otolaryngologists who were able to devote more time to research because of less time spent on other things—for example, elective procedures.
As editor-in-chief of IFAR, Dr. Smith also saw a substantial increase in submissions, but most pertained to COVID-19-related issues, specifically to olfaction. “This is a novel area with limited prior research, so it just opened a floodgate of opportunity for researchers in our field,” he said. “As an editor, I was overcome by the number of submissions and felt a certain responsibility to very quickly adjudicate them, get them peer reviewed, make a decision, and get them published online.” At times, he said, it took only six to eight days from submission to getting the article published online.
Dr. Welling also underscored the quick turnaround from submission to publication. “We cut the normal publication time almost by half, from 88 days to 49 days, for COVID-19-related articles,” he said. The journal, he added, remains committed to increasing the turnaround speed for all manuscripts.
For Dr. Smith, the quickened pace of some research is one of the lessons learned from COVID-19. “We have the ability to move things much more quickly when we feel the heat or pressure,” he said, acknowledging that no one can keep up the fast pace experienced during the pandemic on a regular basis. “But we know that we can very quickly move if world conditions require us to do so.”