Wednesday, December 1

There is science beyond covid, by Salvador Macip

The pandemic has not only monopolized the media and networks during these months, but also the investigation. Faced with a crisis of these proportions, all resources had to be invested to find a solution as soon as possible, because many lives were at stake. We have celebrated in sufficient quantity the scientific successes of the last year, the result of a combination of cooperation and competition, both on the public and private sides of the equation, highly oiled by generous funding. But we have not talked so much about a hidden cost of this campaign: the slowdown that most investigations not related to the virus have suffered.

In the same way that doctors have had to prioritize covid-19 patients and this has caused delays in the treatment of other diseases, scientists saw, first, how access to laboratories was limited and, later, how important fund items were out of reach if we didn’t do anything related to SARS-CoV-2. The consequences will not be as immediate as those that have been suffered in primary care, but without a doubt the stoppage will have an impact on essential fields.

In this complicated context, it has been especially satisfactory for my group to have managed to publish a work a few weeks ago that describes the creation of a “smart bombs & rdquor; to locate and destroy old cells that contribute to the degeneration that we see in tissues with age, and that also accelerate diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s. We had planned to have it ready a year ago, but key experiments were postponed due to confinement. Designing anti-aging drugs is not an emergency, of course, but it is a type of intervention that could improve the quality of life of many people, once all tests are finished. The pandemic will have delayed this expected outcome, like so many other things.

As a result of the interactions that our article has generated, I have noticed a couple of things. The first, that there is much more interest in scientific news than before the covid. A discovery that went in the same direction happened without much media fuss when we published it in 2019. Now, instead, I have been invited to speak on various stations and televisions as normal. The fact that these days we have given the microphone to scientists has caused the public to lose their fear of the inherent complexity of biomedical research. On the other hand, many journalists have become aware of these issues and have been happy to be able to contribute to making visible an advance that was not related to the coronavirus. We hope that this will no longer change and that, from now on, the presence of scientists in the media to present relevant discoveries is common.

The other point is related to the tendency we have to simplify. A journalist told me that if our drug completed the entire development process, which is still long, my name would really go down in history. I was surprised because I have never seen it as a personal victory: Despite being the visible head of the project, behind it is the effort of a whole team that, in addition, has taken advantage of previous discoveries.

We tend to look for a figure that summarizes a movement, a discovery, a change, when reality is usually very complex. We have seen it, for example, with the headlines that spoke of “the person who created the vaccine against covid & rdquor; or similar reductions. I doubt that anyone can claim this exclusive honor, when most scientific milestones take decades and hundreds of experts contribute.

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It is the same problem that we have every year when they occur the Nobel prizes, an outdated concept that perhaps made sense at the beginning of the 20th century but which, today, gives a distorted picture of what scientific research is: an increasingly multidisciplinary and progressive which is built from small increments made by networks of professionals working in coordination from various corners of the planet.

I am happy to be one of the many who, daily, add a grain of sand to the ever-growing mountain of human knowledge. My successes (and also my failures) will help define one of the paths that we hope will lead us to a better world. Whoever crosses the finish line first will perhaps attract all the flashes of the cameras, but they will not have reached there only on their own merits, because science is, above all, teamwork. And I always say it: it’s the best job in the world.

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