Keep doing cancer research during the emergency state: more than ever we need to be united and to collaborate

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Keep doing cancer research during the emergency state: more than ever we need to be united and to collaborate

Wednesday, 08.04.2020

Dear ASPIC members,


From March 2nd to 4th, 2020, the European, American and Portuguese Cancer Research Associations (EACR, AACR and ASPIC, respectively) held an international conference focused on basic and translational research on the importance of the tumor microenvironment for neoplastic progression. This conference brought together more than 600 participants at the Lisbon Congress Center, with representatives from 44 different countries. Based on the consultation that ASPIC made at the time with the General Health Direction (DGS), and since there were no cases of COVID-19 in Portugal, there was no indication from the Portuguese authorities not to proceed with the conference as planned. Thus, despite the inability of some speakers to travel due to precautions related to COVID-19, the conference proceeded without major impediments and with a scientific level of excellence, including the magnificent lectures that were delivered remotely.


Although I am sure that the conference was scientifically positive for all participants, I know that it was also a time of tension, anxiety and nervousness for most of the researchers who decided to go. Insecurity regarding participants from countries where the outbreak had already taken place, doubts about the discussion of results in a poster where the proximity between researchers is always greater, the confinement of participants to an auditorium where 600 people had no chance of maintaining a safety distance, the persistent hand washing, the uncertainty about whether or not to greet colleagues and friends we haven't seen for a long time... feelings that we had never experienced in any scientific meeting and that clearly impact the natural flow of science with which we get used to and which are part of our professional life.


Unsurprisingly, on the day the conference began, the first case of COVID-19 infection was diagnosed in Portugal. Although the event took place as normal as possible, our world has changed radically since that day. A month later, the outbreak took over our country, Europe and the world. Almost without notice, universities and research institutes were closed, following contingency measures in line with the strategy implemented at the national level. The state of emergency was announced in 3 days, imposing the confinement of citizens to their homes and limiting the free movement of people, except for health reasons or other reasons of imperative urgency.


On the same day I received the i3S closing news, I sent an email to all my students asking them to finish all the work they were doing and go home to protect themselves. We finished cell cultures, we informed the animal facility that the experiments were not to continue, we closed the laboratory and went home to our children and family. At that time, my priority was the safety of my research team ... but what about our professional life, is it suspended? Until when? And what about doctoral theses that need results to finish? What about grants that expire? What about the articles that were submitted and whose review requires more experiences? What about the projects that are active? What about our goals? What about our career and life mission? And our future?


It is because of these questions that I decided to write you. We need more than ever to continue doing research during this confinement time in our homes. We cannot lower our arms and wait for it to pass. Cancer patients continue to need us and we need to quickly adapt to this new reality and continue to produce in some way.


Obviously, what depends on the laboratory will have to wait. But we can maintain some work activity via telework. Most of us are privileged to be able to stay at home, comfortable, while our medical colleagues have to go to work and expose themselves to a risk that we don't have to take. Fortunately, by coincidence, we are applying for projects from the Foundation for Science and Technology, so we can take the time to think about new hypotheses and solutions in the area we are studying.


We have to stay motivated. Cancer research cannot be carried out without specific equipment, cell cultures, or animal models ... but we can write and review articles, write projects, discuss ideas and analyze data with extra care. We can hold our group meetings in order to maintain some unity and sense of belonging. We can maintain some pace and stimulate intellect and creativity. We can study and design future experiences.


That is, although we do not know exactly when we will be able to return to the laboratory, it is my belief that we need to remain united as a community, continue to think and collaborate, and maintain contact between us. For my part, I can assure you that the ASPIC Direction will follow up on its plan of activities for 2020-2021. The ASPIC website has also been very active, with the dissemination of job opportunities, events and future congresses in Oncology and works published by Portuguese researchers.


Unfortunately, cancer research cannot stop, as the mortality rate is much higher than that caused by COVID-19 infection.


Stay firm and safe! ASPIC count on you.


Joana Paredes

ASPIC President

April 7th, 2020