The cancer research community is reacting and adapting to the restrictions placed on us by the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ve asked EACR members to contribute articles and advice on the theme of ‘How to be a cancer researcher during coronavirus’.
A short summary of our lab:
Our research group has been studying a multitude of cancer aspects over the last two decades. Our main focus is to understand the relevance of protein tyrosine phosphatase in several aspects of tumor biology. This includes chemoresistance, aggressiveness and the interaction between LMWPTP and extracellular vesicles, platelets and lymphocytes. To achieve these goals we use different cancer cell models (2D and 3D cell culture) from gastrointestinal cancer, leukemia and melanomas.
- Alessandra Valeria de Sousa Faria, PhD student, University of Campinas
- Stefano Piatto Clerici, PhD Student, University of Campinas
- Patrícia Fernandes de Souza Oliveira, PhD Student, University of Campinas
- Helon Guimarães Cordeiro, PhD Student, University of Campinas
- Yisell Dayana Salazar Prada, MSc Student, University of Campinas
- Dr. Erica Mie Akagi, Postdoctoral, University of Campinas
- Dr. Emanuella Maria Barreto Fonseca, Researcher, University of Campinas and Professor, Federal Institute of Sao Paulo
- Luis Henrique Gonzaga Ribeiro, Technician/Biosecurity manager, University of Campinas
- Dr. Claudia de Lourdes Soraggi, Lab Manager, University of Campinas
- Dr. Carmen Veríssima Ferreira-Halder, Professor, Head of OncoBiomarkers Research Lab, University of Campinas
All authors contributed equally to this work. This letter reflects only the author’s opinion.
Preparing the lab for lockdown – experiments and technical support
Since the coronavirus crisis spread across Asia and Europe, we had the opportunity to manage our actions to preserve our community health. When the disease arrived in Brazil, we had to adapt to social isolation. The University of Campinas was the pioneering Brazilian university in social distancing, proposing virtual activities. They really understood the need to rearrange and extend our academic dates. In the same manner, our main financial agency proposed the same. We applied a lockdown to our research laboratory to guarantee the health of our team and colleagues. This situation caused the re-scheduling of new experiments, but we had the opportunity to finish ongoing experiments.
In a macro view, most of the Brazilian population understands the importance of social distancing to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Now, the challenge for cancer researchers who are working from home is to adapt the routine for this scenario.
How to adapt lab work to the home office? Our lab team shared the experience on transfer from practical lab work to remotely work!
Once the COVID-19 epidemic in Wuhan began to spread and the isolation of that area was announced, we began monitoring the situation daily and made plans in case WHO categorized the situation as a pandemic. This was to enable us to immediately act once it was expected that the social isolation strategy would expand all globally. In the meantime, efforts were made to safely return two members of the laboratory. These members were in an internship at the University of Rotterdam. Indeed, they left The Netherlands just in time! On March 12, the rector of the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Prof. Dr. Marcelo Knobel, determined the suspension of teaching activities. This was in view of the large number of people who passed through the institution daily (~ 50,000/day).
During the quarantine period, my focus is to stay physically and mentally healthy.
Specifically in the OncoBiomarkers Laboratory (Institute of Biology), we decided that the ongoing experiments would be completed. Afterwards, all lab members including the staff, started to work from home. Throughout this whole period, staff members are also responsible for performing essential activities. These include maintaining the cell bank and updating protocols. Members of the lab team have volunteered to take part in the committee of covid-19/UNICAMP. This was created to focus on diagnosis, dissemination and clinical trials. Based on our expertise in Signal Transduction, our team will be also involved in a research project focused on designing a platform to follow up with Covid-19 patients under hospitalization. (Carmen Veríssima Ferreira-Halder, Claudia de Lourdes Soraggi & Luis Henrique Gonzaga Ribeiro)
Most of our laboratory experiments are based on cancer cell culture, which is strictly dependent on laboratory infrastructure. Since the lockdown, we have focused on theoretical activities. Most of them relate to producing technical reports to our funding agencies and creating or retaking projects, articles, and reviews. During the quarantine period, my focus is to stay physically and mentally healthy. Nowadays, I try to rearrange my time at home with theoretical activities related to my cancer field. This includes personal interests and physical exercise. Currently, I am using online platforms to study cancer extracellular vesicles as this is my Ph.D. focus. With this, I am trying to produce technical reports for my funding agency and the university.
Knowing how to deal with so many setbacks, reorganizing plans and dedicating more time to multitasking, ends up being a very difficult task. However it is necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
To keep active and to improve and maintain my mental focus I am performing online language studies and indoor exercise. It is important to mention that I am maintaining my social network. I am discussing and maintaining virtual dialogues with partners, colleagues, and friends to avoid fake news about the coronavirus crisis. (Stefano Piatto Clerici)
Now is not the appropriate situation for planning experiments and scheduling defenses. However, in my case as a 4th year’s Ph.D. student, thesis writing is an important and expected task. It is necessary to spend a long time doing that. For newer students, it could be an interesting strategy to revise hypotheses, update protocols, investigate published metadata, design and draw bioinformatics analysis. It is important to keep going with research while staying home. Maybe, it’s also an unexpected opportunity to have a break for better comprehension of the main idea and aim on our projects!
Aside from the constant news updates about COVID-19, I also have been following the scientific progress on research. And sometimes I ask myself, what about cancer research in the COVID-19’s context? How will the cancer community and specialists contribute to the other research field against this unknown disease? (Alessandra Valeria de Sousa Faria)
It is necessary to maintain a balance between mental, physical, spiritual and academic aspects.
Quarantine for me is a period of pause in experiments, despite being stressed about many. For me, it was a relief because I was able to think about the interesting results. Therefore, I am working on these results and preparing my article for resubmission. Maintaining sanity is important and for that, I count on the help of a psychologist who accompanies me, and I take short walks with my pets. It has been very stressful receiving so much fake news and know how to deal with it. I spend a lot of time guiding my family regarding fake news from WhatsApp as much as possible. I believe that I am doing well with this crisis. However, I hope it will end soon because I miss the experiments and colleagues. (Patrícia Fernandes de Souza-Oliveira)
I talk to students about internet accessibility in their homes. I have made them aware of virtual activities that are available to them.
During the quarantine period, I have been working on writing my papers. Furthermore, I am looking to read more articles about my research project, which aims to understand the biological functionality of extracellular vesicles in cells of the immune system. In addition to the activities related to my research, I am reading more about COVID-19. I am trying to clarify doubts to laypeople, even emphasizing the importance of social isolation and some habits such as hand hygiene to control this situation. It is noteworthy that many Brazilians do not understand the importance of research for society. I am trying to explain the importance of research and universities in the face of situations of calamities such as this pandemic of COVID-19. (Helon Guimarães Cordeiro)
At the University of Campinas, I currently work as a collaborating researcher. The government decree for social distancing came when I was studying the experimental design of a new project. Studies are still going on; however, as I also work as a professor and course coordinator at another public educational institution (Federal Institute of Sao Paulo), the pace of work is drastically reduced. I take part in several videoconferences a day to decide on working strategies with my fellow professors, the suspension of classes and reorganizing the calendar.
In addition, I talk to students about internet accessibility in their homes. I have made them aware of virtual activities that are available to them. I am also using my social network to spread good ideas, reliable information from trusted sources. These include arts and science blogs and/or profile recommendations and everything that can help people maintain mental health and wellbeing and learn about the coronavirus pandemic. (Emanuella Maria Barreto Fonseca)
At the beginning of 2020, we were committed to completing some experiments for finalizing articles and my post-doc project at an accelerated pace. Unfortunately, with the social isolation due to the arrival of the pandemic in our country, I’ve paused my experiments. I concentrated only on writing at home. This has been an arduous task, since I have to reconcile work at home and homeschooling my daughter. Knowing how to deal with so many setbacks, reorganizing plans and dedicating more time to multitasking, ends up being a very difficult task. However it is necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. (Erica Mie Akagi)
When you begin your postgraduate studies, you arrive energetic, interested and curious to discover. You are eager to meet the different challenges proposed at the beginning. However, in a global situation that is outside of our control, it is clear that our initial plans must change. In first instance, it’s essential to stay calm and maintain proper mental health. This is because the brain sometimes gets saturated with negative news from the media. For this reason, it is necessary to maintain a balance between mental, physical, spiritual and academic aspects.
In my particular case, due to great change of routine to which I was forced, I chose to focus and work on improving my discipline. This led me to make a schedule, which included academic activities such as reading articles related to my master’s project. As I am a postgraduate beginner, the area of cancer with a cell signalling focus is new to me. I’m expected to take advantage of this time to learn more about the different bases of which I need to know. This will help me to develop my project later. These readings have helped me to answer some questions.
Within the academic context and emphasizing that, the post-graduation classes continued at a distance, which I find very valuable. It is worth mentioning that I also have time for other academic activities. These including attending video conferences, answering questionnaires or reading some books and articles of interest. In terms of physical aspect, I have taken up physical activity at home. I have watched videos or attended online classes where coaches help people to keep fit.
Finally, I spend an hour a day on my spiritual life and entertainment. I have decided to take up some things I started and never finished, like books, movies or series. It is also important to emphasize the role of the different social networks that are useful to keeping updated with my friends and family conditions. I try to inform them correctly about the pandemic. This is because it is frequent to receive fake news that misinform and generate panic in society. (Yisell Dayana Salazar Prada)
We sincerely hope that this pandemic will finish soon. We also hope that human beings take lessons from this humanitarian crisis. Hopefully, the world becomes more egalitarian in terms of health, economy, development. However we hope cordiality and solidarity is not lost. For now, be safe, stay home and keep hope.