Connections: science, poetry and the pandemic
5 scientists join 5 poets, working together to create a poem that reflects their research during the pandemic.
As part of our “Connections” series and the 2021 Cambridge Festival, we held a fascinating virtual talk featuring experts discussing COVID-19
Dr Jane Greatorex chaired the panel. She is a virologist and Lucy Cavendish College's Senior Tutor and Director of Studies in Pre-Clinical Veterinary Medicine. She has had a long career in academic and clinical science, specializing in the blood borne viruses and, until September 2017, was responsible for streamlining and improving HIV diagnostic services at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge. As a scientist used to working in high containment laboratories, she was a team leader in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak in 2015 and remains on the list of scientists that may be called upon to respond in the event of a similar occurrence. She remains involved in a number of research projects.
Dr David Matthews has been a molecular virologist for 30 years working mainly on respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus, adenovirus, Hendra virus, MERS-CoV and now SARS-CoV-2. He also worked on the 2013-2015 Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa as part of the European Mobile Laboratories response. At the start of this pandemic, at Bristol they were the only UK laboratory working with MERS-CoV and thus ideally placed to start work on SARS-CoV-2 and help other teams get their facilities ready. They published the UK’s first paper working with live SARS-CoV-2 in March 2020 on the transcriptome and proteome of virus infected cells. Subsequently they have also been fortunate to work with Prof Sarah Gilbert’s team at Oxford and publish a detailed analysis of the transcriptomic behaviour of the Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine in human cells – a fortuitous overlap with his career long interest in adenoviruses and their use in gene therapy and vaccines.
Dr Derren Ready completed a PhD at UCL investigating antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance in 2005. His research has focused on the isolation, identification and characterisation of pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria and viruses in patients during health and disease phases, the use of traditional and novel antimicrobial agents, bacterial biofilms, detection of antimicrobial resistance and public health.
Dr Nicola Rose heads the Virology division in a public health institute. The Division deals with all matters related to viruses and their related biological medicinal products. The scientists have broad expertise covering four major areas: emerging/pre-pandemic viruses, influenza, polio, and vaccines for viral diseases. She started her scientific career with a PhD in molecular genetics at the University of Leicester. A subsequent move to the University of Cambridge brought her into the world of virology. She has had varied roles within her current workplace since she joined in 2001. She took up her current position at the same time that COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, so she says it has been an intense but rewarding inaugural year.
Dr Giles Yeo got his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1998, after which he joined the lab of Prof Sir Stephen O'Rahilly, working on the genetics of severe human obesity. Giles Yeo is now a programme leader at the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit in Cambridge and his research currently focuses on the influence of genes on feeding behaviour and bosy weight. In addition, he is a graduate tutor and Fellow of Wolfson College, and Honorary President of the British Dietetic Association. Giles is also a broadcaster and author, presenting science documentaries for the BBC's 'Horizon' and 'Trust Me I Am a Doctor'. His first book 'Gene eating' was published in December 2018, and his second book 'Why calories don't count' comes out in June 2021. He received an MBE in the Queen's 2020 birthday honours for services to 'Research, Communication and Engagement'.
Professor Paul Digard is a virologist whose career started at Cambridge University, with a PhD on influenza virus, followed by a postdoctoral stint at Harvard Medical School, where he studied the DNA polymerase of herpes simplex virus. He then returned to Cambridge and the subject of influenza to start his own research group in 1993. He moved to the Roslin Institute in 2012, where he holds the Chair of Virology and is the Head of the Infection & Immunity Division. His laboratory is interested in the molecular and cellular biology of how influenza virus replicates, using this information to understand the basis of virus pathogenesis and host range, as well as for translational studies on antiviral drug development and virus control measures – in particular the interface between virology and “soft material” engineering approaches. Since 2020, like many other virologists, the research group focus has partially shifted onto SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the COVID epidemic.
Paula Cannon, PhD, is a Distinguished Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology in the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on the use of gene editing technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 to modify genes in blood cells, with the goal of developing novel treatments for HIV. In 2010, her team was the first to show that gene editing could be used to mimic a natural mutation that results in protection from HIV, which has now progressed to a clinical protocol to treat HIV-positive individuals. More recently, she is using her broad experience as a virologist to develop treatments for COVID-19 based on blocking the virus entering cells. Beyond the lab, Dr. Cannon has a deep commitment to working with people living with HIV and currently serves on the Board of Directors of AIDS Project Los Angeles. She is also a frequent speaker at both scientific meetings and in the media, where her ability to describe the COVID-19 pandemic has made her a sought-after interviewee and resource for journalists.
Professor Julian Hiscox is Chair in Infection and Global Health at the University of Liverpool where he is Deputy Executive Dean in the Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Sciences.He is an adjunct professor at the A*STAR Infectious Diseases Laboratories (A*STAR ID Labs), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Julian has researched coronaviruses and related viruses since starting his PhD in 1991. His research group specialises in high consequence infections and biological threats. He leads a $6M international research program on SARS-CoV-2 and MERS-coronavirus funded by the US Food and Drug Administration focusing on the response of humans and model systems to COVID-19 and MERS and the effect of medical countermeasures such as vaccines and anti-virals. His research group also works on Ebola virus and biological and chemical threats, the latter funded by the Defence Science Technology Laboratory. His group studies virus evolution and the host response to these threats. He is a co-opted member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) for COVID-19.
Professor Ian Goodfellow is a Wellcome Senior Fellow, Professor of Virology and deputy head of the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge. He is a molecular virologists with >25 year’s experience on a wide range of viruses. His research focuses on the mechanisms of RNA virus replication and pathogenesis as well as the identification of control measures for the prevention or treatment of infections. His lab established the use of reverse genetics for the study of the molecular basis of norovirus pathogenesis, developing the first infectious reverse genetics system for noroviruses. Through funding from the Wellcome Trust, Professor Goodfellow and colleagues established the ARTIC network and have developed a field deployable sample-to-interpretation real-time sequencing workflow for viral epidemics, including the recent Ebola outbreak in DRC and the ongoing SARS CoV-2 pandemic. Currently Professor Goodfellow is part of the COVID-19 genomics UK consortium and the SARS CoV-2 genotype-to-phenotype consortium.
Photo credit: Elena Mozhvilo, Unsplash