Mobilizing Scientists to Combat COVID-19

ASM summit article
"The only thing more contagious than a virus is hope."

Berkeley Optometry’s Dr. Suzanne Fleiszig is leading efforts to mobilize scientists around the globe in an urgent quest to find innovative ways to test and treat COVID-19.

Dr. Fleiszig, who is chair-elect of the Council on Microbial Sciences for the American Society of Microbiology (ASM), one of the world’s largest and oldest scientific societies, co-organized an historic summit of leading experts to discuss ways that scientists can work together to leverage existing resources and remove obstacles to develop both testing and vaccines to stop the coronavirus pandemic that is currently gripping the planet. According to tracking by Johns Hopkins University, over one million people worldwide have been infected by COVID-19, and over 50,000 have died.

The summit, which was convened via video conference, included a distinguished group of microbiologists, virologists, infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists and clinical laboratory scientists.

Paul Duprex, director of vaccine research at the University of Pittsburgh, reported that while a vaccine is at least a year away, researchers have identified 35 potential candidates which are being explored. It is a slow process, he said, and stressed the importance of thorough testing for vaccines to ensure that they are safe and effective. A misstep could undermine public confidence in effective vaccines that are already in regular use for other maladies.

While research groups around the world rush to find a suitable vaccine, others are focused on the more immediate task of identifying medicines currently in use that might be used to treat those already infected. Others still are addressing the need for standardized, quality testing, including so-called point-of-care testing that produces almost immediate results without the need to send collected samples to a lab for evaluation, a process that can take days.

Although these efforts will take time, Dr. Fleiszig says that a critically important and positive outcome of the summit is the extraordinary demonstration of solidarity and collaboration between the world’s leading experts. “Scientists are mobilizing around the globe to put their full effort into solving this problem; finding innovative ways to work together, and leveraging existing resources while thinking of new ways of doing things and removing obstacles. This summit initiated that, and we are optimistic about our abilities to solve this.”

Next steps for the group could include practical resources for the public that will explain -- and point people towards -- the science behind current recommendations for navigating safely through the crisis.

The virus continues to rage across the globe, but the summit offers a measure of hope. Dr. Fleiszig's Co-Chair at ASM, Michael G. Schmidt, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, summed up the success of the summit, "The only thing more contagious than a virus is hope. We are here to foster the collaboration of scientists across the globe to understand the virus and control its spread.”

About the photo

UC Berkeley Professor of Optometry and Vision Science, Suzanne Fleiszig, in her lab on the Berkeley campus. Photo by Elena Zhukova

Links

American Society of Microbiology
https://www.asm.org/

ASM COVID-19 Summit
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=vK6D1JYuUZs&feature=emb_logo

Dr. Suzanne Fleiszig
https://vision.berkeley.edu/people/suzanne-m-j-fleiszig-od-phd-faao/