The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Scientific advancements in the time of COVID-19 and what they offer us

Rajee headshot

Opinion writer Rajee Ganesan poses for a portrait. Photo courtesy of Rajee Ganesan.

The coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, has dramatically transformed the lives of people around the globe. It has decimated economies, overwhelmed health care systems and affected families in unimaginable ways. However, in spite of the havoc that it has caused, COVID-19 has furthered our understanding of pandemic control beyond anything that we've known before. Most importantly, it has proven the resilience of the scientific and healthcare communities.

Data sharing is a huge aspect of how epidemiologists can begin to understand diseases. It provides insight in terms of the populations that the conditions affect, as well as the speed and extent of transmission. This is something that health care professionals at UNC and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai are attempting to address with the establishment of SECURE-IBD

SECURE-IBD is a project that is focused on collecting disease-specific COVID-19 data, with an emphasis on patients with inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease and colitis, who contract the virus. 

The registry takes patients with varying disease symptoms and hospitalizations and connects them with specialists and healthcare professionals. The tool has inspired other disease-specific registries, and can be used to identify things like potential drugs and treatments. It also connects doctors and scientists in a way that hasn’t been this widely done in the past.

Data sharing has also allowed researchers to collaborate on projects in order to study coronavirus at an expedited pace. The virus was sequenced within a week of discovery and has been made publicly available. Courses at UNC, such as Computer Science 555 (Bioalgorithms), have even integrated the genome into everyday classwork. And although academic life has generally been branded with the 'publish or perish' mindset for decades, publishing is the last thing on anyone’s minds at the moment.

Much of the current research is being churned out and published on preprint servers rather than undergoing the regular review process. In addition, many journals have eliminated paywalls to make information accessible to other scientists immediately. This allows for researchers to build on each other's work, and evaluate the significance and reliability of experiments almost instantaneously. This, in turn, allows health care professionals to evaluate clinical trials based on timely results from individuals within the lab. 

In addition, in the race for treatments and vaccines to combat the novel virus, new, heavily-researched aspects of science have been able to take the spotlight. This past week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an experimental stem cell therapy to be tested in clinical trials as a preventative measure. The goal of the therapy is to use the cells derived from human placentas, which generally protect babies from viruses and illnesses, to attack  COVID-19. 

Although the therapy remains unproven, stem cell therapies have been a major focus of research by biological and biomedical laboratories across the country. The FDA approving clinical trials in this case only gives rise to these types of therapies increasing in popularity over the next decade.

The coronavirus can be characterized in a lot of ways, most of them being negative. However, one thing is for certain: COVID-19 has challenged the speed at which science can be done, and researchers, scientists and healthcare professionals across the globe have risen to the occasion. The virus has served as a wake-up call for most of the world, and it will change the way that pandemics are viewed and handled from here on out.