April 2020: Notes from the CBR Director

By Dr. Edward Conway, Centre for Blood Research Director

When the Centre for Blood Research (CBR) team of editors and writers were compiling and laying out all the fabulous stories, reports and photos for display in this issue of the CBR Magazine, the best parts of BC were revealing themselves. The short winter days were lengthening into bright skies, the ski slopes were still busy even while spring was in the air, and the buds of cherry blossoms were starting to appear. At the CBR, the energy was palpable, as undergraduate science students were excitedly discussing potential projects to join the CBR summer studentship program; GAP students were wrapping up their program, looking forward to a well-deserved celebratory event; PIs had submitted their CIHR project grants, ever optimistic in pursuit of new lines of impactful research.

And then, suddenly, the world changed. A chance event – a new, highly infectious coronavirus, COVID-19, emerged. Its seemingly simple and attractive structure, represented by artists as colourful pretty little spikes emanating from a spherical core, belies its menacing capacity to cause devastating disease. Indeed, the virus stopped us in our tracks, curtailing research activities, halting education programs, and creating havoc in lives literally around the globe. Evoking descriptions of the black plague that killed millions in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, this pandemic and the quarantine efforts designed to contain it, are now causing widespread economic and social ruin, beyond anyone’s expectations.

The word “unprecedented”  has entered into our everyday vocabulary. This is not only for the damage that COVID-19 is eliciting, but it is also for how communities around the world are responding. From a research point of view, CBR investigators have stepped up in an unprecedented manner, nimbly redirecting all their efforts to characterise the mechanisms by which the virus triggers cellular and organ damage; searching for innovative and urgently needed therapeutic approaches. With strict social distancing, video conferencing has become the norm, and the CBR’s education programming team is taking full advantage, designing creative tactics to ensure the support and engagement of our members. Overall, there is an unprecedented worldwide collegiality, with everyone’s efforts focused on mitigating the effects of a common enemy.

No doubt, we will emerge from this extreme challenge. Things will be different. But we will be stronger, wiser, with a deeper appreciation of life and the value of the work we do at the CBR and UBC.

Be well and stay safe!