Looking back to the start of the year, few of us would have predicted the extraordinary times we are currently living through. Even for scientists, who are acutely aware of the power wielded by the natural world, the transformation brought about by this invisible invader has been startling.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has also put on hold practical work into tackling one of the other great health challenges of our time - dementia. For many researchers, the middle of March required a rapid exit from the labs and months of hard work were inevitably and frustratingly lost. These worries are compounded by concern for the wellbeing of friends and family, many of whom are far away for our international staff. It has been an extremely difficult time for all but there is appetite from the community for progress to continue where possible.
Faced with a new virtual reality, some researchers are shifting their attention to the often-neglected tasks of sifting through literature, writing up manuscripts and, importantly, building future projects. Meetings continue (for better or worse!) on video conferencing platforms and many scheduled events and conferences have gone virtual rather than being abandoned altogether. With the administration and cost of hosting speakers often proving prohibitive, the lockdown has perhaps shown that virtual seminars and workshops can provide a viable alternative option for sharing science.
Since the outbreak took hold, it has been humbling to see the response from our community. Firstly, clinical colleagues returned to the front line in NHS hospitals, treating and caring for those most acutely affected. Many researchers have also been using their lab skills to help with testing efforts. The UK DRI centres have all answered appeals from health authorities, donating laboratory testing equipment (qPCR machines), reagents and much-needed PPE for healthcare professionals. Moving specialist equipment to the NHS immunology lab at Queen Square Hospital, Senior Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Amanda Heslegrave assisted with set up and validation of a test to measure the inflammatory response in Covid-19 patients. This can help us predict the disease course and whether an individual will require extra care going forward. Others are reviewing and summarising newly released Covid-19 literature to identify promising leads in treatment and management of the virus.