Scientists Come Together for the Greater Good

June 1, 2020 by Julia McDermott

Every day, we grow more isolated from our communities and each other but currently, countless teams of scientists are coming together from around the world to develop a vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic. The development of a vaccine typically takes many years to perfect but right now, time is of the essence. When it comes to vaccines, the scientific community is generally discreet with research and development due to the academic praise and rewards that can come with solo breakthroughs. However, right now scientists are sharing their research with the general scientific community in order to find a faster cure.

On April 13, the WHO made an official statement recognizing the international collaboration as demonstrated by the efforts of the novel coronavirus vaccine research. They applauded the “efforts to strengthen the unprecedented worldwide collaboration, cooperation and sharing of data already underway” and encouraged the global community to continue to do so.

In an article published by The New York Times, this new practice of collaborative research was considered to be “eroding the secrecy that pervades academic medical research” and only “occurring right now because it’s a matter of survival”, instead of showing promise for a new way of conducting business. However, this does not diminish the positive aspects from the global cooperation in the scientific community.

The first display of this new scientific camaraderie was seen when, shortly after the outbreak was discovered, a team of Chinese scientists mapped and released the gene sequence for the novel coronavirus as ‘open source’. With this knowledge, scientists across the globe promptly began their research in pursuit of a vaccine. It isn’t hard to find more examples of other organizations casting aside monetary motivations: a team of scientists from Boston have received $115 million of funding to begin COVID-19 studies, working collaboratively with researchers in China; The Journal of Physiology and Experimental Physiology is providing free access to any and all papers that are “potentially relevant” to COVID-19; and a Chinese vaccine company has begun working with the Canadian National Research Council on clinical trials of a vaccine.

Furthermore, a large example of scientific collaboration can be seen with the virological-analysis website, Nextstrain. After the virus sequence was released, “Nextstrain was receiving anywhere from 50 to 200 sequences a day from laboratories around the world”, according to the journal, Nature Research. This allowed the company to run “analysis of virus evolution” and track how the virus was developing.

While not exactly an example of scientific collaboration, as also explained by Nature Research, an unlikely collaboration can be found between the Mercedes Formula One Racing Team, University College London, and University College London Hospital. Together, they’re creating a “‘continuous positive airway pressure’ device” which is a version of a ventilator. In addition to the approval of the use of this device in the UK, it has been “made available at no cost to manufacturers and researchers.”

In a time of separation from the familiar, the vision of unity coming from the scientific community is both reassuring and exemplary for the future. Not only because this collaboration puts the globe on a fast track to a vaccine, but also because it maintains hope that everything will be alright.

Julia McDermott ('21) is a Senior Editor at SPR and a Service Council head for the upcoming school year.

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