by Barbara Illi
Institute of Molecular Biology and Pathology, National Research Council (IBPM-CNR), c/o
Department of Biology and Biotechnology “Charles Darwin”, Sapienza University, Rome, Italy
Table of Contents
- The Pandemic
- Communication in the COVID-19 Era
- Science is a Matter of Time
- The SIBBM/Zanichelli “SARS-CoV-2: Research Frontiers” Web Resource
From 1918 till 1920, a pandemic of a particular H1N1 influenza strain caused 50 millions of deaths worldwide, infecting 500 millions of people among a population of two billions. To date, this was the worst pandemic the human being has ever experienced, exceeding the black plague of the 14th Century. COVID-19 (COronaVIrus Disease 2019) would have probably won the first place, if occurred even only 20 years ago. Indeed, the current pandemic faced the exceptional acceleration Science underwent in the past few years, in terms of knowledge in molecular biology and molecular methodologies, highthroughput analyses and virtual screening, bioinformatics and computational modeling, which helped to rapidly identify, classify, treat and limit the further spread of the highly contagious etiological COVID-19 pathogen: the SARS-CoV-2 virus (SARS CoronaVirus 2).
More than 30 thousand papers have been published since January 2020 on SARS-CoV-2 and related pandemic. This represents the highest effort the scientific community ever provided in the smallest time frame. However, spreading correct and reliable information frequently collided with misinterpretation or even with negationism. Therefore, Science has been – and still is – at the forefront of a war, in which the SARS-CoV-2 virus is not the only enemy. Communication is still a challenging issue for scientists. Mass media and social networks had a great responsibility in determine the perception of the global pandemic, flowing an impressive number of information, some essential, some misleading and some even dangerous.
In some Countries, Government press has minimized the seriousness of the disease, leading to a poor comply of containment measures by citizens, and this had cost lives. In some cases, scientific information have been distorted or even opposed by political leaders.
On the other hand, the lack of peer-reviews and the poor control of submitted for publication data have, in some cases, provided incorrect information. Indeed, the publication process of a scientifc article proceeds through different steps of revision. First, it has to be accepted by the Editor of the journal to which it is submitted. Thereafter, a panel of external researchers (reviewers”) evaluate the experimental data, whether they are clearly exposed and whether open questions remain, usually asking for other experiments to be performed. Therefore, the publication of a scientific paper may take several months (or years in some cases). During the pandemic, exceptionally, some journals have published not revised data, with the aim to provide the highest number of information regarding an unprecedented event having such a high impact on public health, society and economy. The paradigm is the “hydroxychloroquine affair”. The Lancet journal, which has one of the highest Impact Factors, was forced to retract a paper reporting a clinical study on hydroxychloroquine, as data provided from the company engaged to manage, analyze and report patients clinical information and outcomes were not reliable and verifiable1. This event has further emphasize the urgent need of communicating controlled, valid and indisputable information.
During the very first period of COVID-19 outbreak, scientists were seen by the public opinion as saviours. The race for the cure and for vaccines boosted high hopes to find quickly a solution to the pandemic. Indeed, as time went by, the understanding of the pathogenic mechanism of the virus and the better control and treatment of patients clinical conditions led to a decrease in the number of hospitalized patients and of intensive care unit admissions. However, the achievements at the scientific and clinical levels did not correspond neither to pandemic extinction nor to the full abolishment of containment countermeasures, which still limits people freedom, changing our life-style and social relationships. Therefore, a sort of skepticism and concerns about the work of researchers worldwide arose. In this regard, it is important to underlie that the scientific achievements obtained in few months, usually take years. Most of the ongoing clinical trials, testing new drugs and candidate vaccines are marked by the acronym EUA, that is Emergency Use Authorization. Nevertheless, this kind of information, which witness the huge amount of work performed to translate science from the bench to bedside, are barely disseminated.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, many web platforms dedicated to Covid-19 born. Examples are the Elsevier Covid-19 resource, the ERA corona platform, the Covid-19 Data Portal and, above all, the US National Institute on Health (NIH) web resources nih.gov/coronavirus and ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sars-cov-2. Nevertheless, in most cases, these tools are not suitable to the lay public.
The SIBBM/Zanichelli SARS-CoV-2: Research Frontiers web resource aims to meet the requirement of clear information about SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19. Taking advantage of the scientific contribution of italian scientists belonging to different disciplines, the web resource has been designed in particular for students and teachers from universities, but it is also directed to all the people who needs and want a reliable source of information, reported, as much as possible, in a non-technical language. Starting from the origin and molecular biology of the virus to its clinical manifestations, passing through the epidemiological characteristics till the psychological and social impact of the pandemic, this web resource represents a comprehensive view of SARS-CoV-2/Covid-19 world and how it changed our lives.