Dr Funmi Olopade on WISDOM During COVID-19: Reaching Participants We Thought We Couldn’t Reach

The WISDOM study—Women Informed to Screen Depending On Measures of risk—was launched to test a personalized approach to screening compared to annual mammograms. Funmi Olopade, MD, FACP, is a professor of Medicine and Human Genetics and founding director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics and Global Health at the University of Chicago Medical Center, and a co-investigator of WISDOM. She discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic actually helped increase participation in the WISDOM study and what it means for future trials.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the WISDOM study, both in participation rates and results?

The way it has impacted us, of course, was that we shut down for several months not able to work. I was over the age of 60, and the only thing I could do was to do video consultation with my patients. But what's been really remarkable is we also learned that that's probably the best way to reach those that we thought we couldn't reach, because it then made it convenient for women to sit in their home, to fill out a questionnaire, to then have kits sent to them because we’re doing the tests with saliva kits. While women were sitting at home, we got more participation of our breast cancer advocates and our breast cancer patients in survey questions. We also realized that COVID was all about testing, testing, testing.

The University of Chicago was one of the earliest centers to actually take testing into the community. We collaborated with the South Side Health Collaborative and South Side Health Care providers to provide testing in the community. And as a result of that, anyone who got tested and was positive for COVID, they got early access to clinical trials that we were doing at the University of Chicago, because it was now no longer about whether you had insurance or not. And we saved a lot of lives. Chicago now has a Chicago health equity initiative, because all of the academic centers now realized that you can't sit there and expect patients to come to you when they have no insurance.

So yes, it impacted us. But we're hoping that we can use the foundation work that we built during the pandemic to reach more women who otherwise would not have been able to participate. And that after the pandemic, we would be able to—it doesn't matter whether you're in rural America, urban America, a low resource setting—everyone will have a chance to participate in life-saving clinical trials.

When we're looking at how COVID has impacted us, I think those who were not able to get screened, now if we identify them as the highest risk patients, they're going to be the first in line. And they have been the first in line to come in and get their mammogram, get their MRI. And I think testing and COVID hopefully will teach us how to organize health systems so that it works for the patient, not for us, right? It has to be patient centered.

So I think we will learn something. And using the platform of these clinical trials that were done during COVID to get people vaccinated, we hope will help us to improve the rates of participation in WISDOM by all patients, not just those who have the convenience of having Internet access in their offices.