Dr Gloria Dalla Costa our MS study co-ordinator on combining clinical practice and research and life in Milan during the pandemic

Dr Gloria Dalla Costa is a neurologist and researcher at San Raffaele Hospital, Milan, Italy.

Dr Gloria Dalla Costa coordinates the clinical study in multiple sclerosis (MS), which focuses on the identification of Remote Measurement Technologies (RMT)-measured biosignatures to identify and monitoring depression, relapses, disability progression and fatigue in people with MS. 

What is the focus of your work within the RADAR-CNS project?

During my residency in neurology I used to split my time quite equally between clinical practice and research, an approach that to me is critical. By doing this you see problems in your clinical practice or things you would like to improve, and you can think how to do this as part of your research activities. I have been exposed to the problem of monitoring patients with multiple sclerosis, which is currently done through periodic clinical visits, an approach which has many limits. This is how my interest towards new technologies for monitoring MS arose, and when offered the opportunity to pursue this within the RADAR-CNS, I embraced this opportunity. 

Since 2018 I have been coordinating the RADAR-MS studies.  I have focused on reaching the target of patients for both studies, and checking the data we are collecting are of good quality. 

We do this because we care that all our efforts will allow us to validate wearable sensor data comparing it with data collected in clinical practice, which is a critical point for wearable devices to be used in everyday clinical practice.

What do you enjoy the most about your work on the project?

The possibility of working on something that I believe can have an impact on the future health of many people - that wearable devices could improve the way patients are monitored and the accuracy with which we can take therapeutic decisions. Then there are some more practical aspects that I like as well. In particular - the collaboration with different people, from computer scientists, engineers, to machine learning experts, this multidisciplinarity gives me the opportunity to learn new things and grow. 

What is challenging about your work?

The RADAR project in itself is a complex project. There are many important details, from explaining to patients how to use the technologies involved, to solving any doubts or problems they encounter. We also need to check the quality of the data coming from sensors, and coordinating the activities between the different centers. All this has been a new and complex but very stimulating experience. 

What do you think is the importance of the project for the wider field of wearable devices?

The RADAR project, as I said, is fundamental. There is a lot of talk about wearable devices and their possible applications in the medical field, and yes, wearable devices are comfortable and fashionable. Moreover, they offer such a granularity and accuracy in monitoring that in usual clinical practice we can’t achieve, but until a solution is proven to be better than the existing ones, you cannot and it does not make sense to implement it in daily use. This is why studies like RADAR are important, because they aim to compare and validate the data obtained from sensors with data that are normally collected in clinical practice as to demonstrate the added value of wearable devices.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work or life?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unimaginable event for all of us, and all of a sudden our lives and our daily rhythms have been turned upside down. In particular, here in Milan we found ourselves immediately at the center of the problem. The hospital wards gradually converted to wards dedicated to COVID-19 patients, and all non-strictly urgent medical activities suspended. This also happened in Spain, and to a lesser extent also in Denmark. Now the situation is slowly returning to normal. 

How have you adapted to the new circumstances created by the pandemic? 

For several weeks our patients have been unable to access the centers, and many of us have been forced to work from home because of the lockdown. We tried to make the most of this situation, and we continued with the project through telephone contact with patients.

Furthermore, the RADAR system has shown that new technologies are fundamental especially in unexpected circumstances such as this pandemic. It was possible in a short time to implement a questionnaire for monitoring the occurrence of COVID-19 symptoms, and our patients responded through their devices giving us real-time information about their health status.