The National Institutes of Health recently announced new members to serve on the Science of Implementation in Health and Healthcare (SIHH) Study Section, including Paul Drain, Associate Professor at the University of Washington. Drain will serve a four-year term beginning in July 2021.

To be considered for a study section, candidates must be recognized authorities in their field and approved by the Director of the NIH.

“Members are selected on the basis of their demonstrated competence and achievement in their scientific discipline as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other significant scientific activities, achievements and honors,” said Noni Byrnes, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Scientific Review.

Study sections review grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ensuring proposals receive fair, independent, expert and timely scientific reviews. The SIHH focuses on studies where the primary objective is to assess the impact of an implementation strategy (as opposed to testing the effectiveness of a clinical intervention).

Drain is an infectious disease physician and Associate Professor of Global Health, Medicine, and Epidemiology at the University of Washington. He has led research projects and randomized clinical trials in Asia and Africa with the goal of improving the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of infectious diseases, including HIV, Tuberculosis, and SARS-CoV-2.

In one such study, a team of researchers in South Africa evaluated the impact of point-of-care testing on HIV-positive adults. Oftentimes in resource limited settings, laboratory testing requires patients to return to a clinic or hospital weeks after their initial appointment to receive results. This can lead to delays in life-saving treatments and declines in patient retention.

The results of the study, published last year in The Lancet, were incredibly promising. After twelve months, 90% of patients who received point-of-care HIV viral load testing (combined with task shifting to enrolled nurses) were retained in care with viral suppression compared to 76% of those who continued to receive the existing standard of care.

“There’s growing recognition that the methods of delivery for health-care interventions are really critical for improving the health of a population,” said Drain. “It’s not just about creating a new device, drug, or diagnostic – we have to be able to implement those interventions in a way that’s patient-friendly.”

Drain’s work on point-of-care testing has implications for the COVID-19 pandemic, both globally and domestically. He leads the UW collaboration of the RADx-UP program, which focuses on increasing testing access for rural and underserved populations, many of whom experience a higher burden of COVID-19. He has also conducted research on the efficacy and advantages of using a rapid, high-sensitivity assay to quickly diagnose and better manage COVID-19, particularly in clinic- and community-based settings.

“COVID-19 is another example of how we can have good diagnostic tests and yet still have a raging global pandemic,” explained Drain. “We’ve evaluated some very good, point-of-care, rapid diagnostics that can be done in ten minutes. We’re talking about the possibility of opening up schools and college campuses and work places, but there’s very little discussion about how we take these novel tools and implement them on a larger scale.”

As a member of the study section, he plans to hold applicants to a high standard for implementation science studies.

There’s a lot that needs to be learned in terms of implementation science and we can only move the field forward if we have good study designs and strong rigor,” he said.   

By Amy Frances Goldstein