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A telehealth approach to improving clinical trial access for infants with tuberous sclerosis complex.



Research in rare genetic syndromes associated with ASD is often hampered by the wide geographic distribution of families and the presence of medical comorbidities, such as epilepsy, that may preclude travel to clinical sites. These challenges can limit the sample size and generalizability of the cohorts included in both natural history studies and clinical trials. Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a rare genetic syndrome that confers an elevated risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with social communication delays identified in this population as early as 12 months of age. Early identification of risk necessitates parallel testing of early intervention, prompting the first randomized controlled clinical trial of behavioral intervention for infants with TSC (NCT03422367). However, considerable early recruitment challenges have mandated the systematic identification of enrollment barriers followed by modification of the study design to address these barriers.


Caregivers were interviewed regarding barriers to enrollment (phase 1). Adaptations to the intervention were made to address these barriers (phase 2). Outcomes based on this modification to the study design were defined by enrollment rate and participant demographics.


Qualitative reports from caregivers indicated that distance and time were the primary barriers to clinical trial enrollment. The intervention was then modified to a remote model, with at-home, parent-delivered intervention, and weekly video conferencing with interventionists at the study sites. Enrollment increased 10-fold (from 3 to 30 participants) within 1 year and included a more diverse and clinically representative cohort of infants.


The design and implementation of more scalable methods to disseminate research remotely can substantially improve access to clinical trials in rare neurodevelopmental disorders. The lessons learned from this trial can serve as a model for future studies not only in rare conditions, but in other populations that lack adequate access, such as families with limited financial or clinical resources. Continued efforts will further refine delivery methods to enhance efficiency and ease of these delivery systems for families.

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