A message from Dean Michael Sipser
Who could have imagined a few short months ago, that all of us would be living today through a terrible pandemic? Here at MIT, the campus is almost completely empty. Most students have returned to their families. Faculty and staff are staying home. The infinite corridor, always usually a hubbub of activity day and night, is quiet.
But, remarkably, the MIT spirit lives on. Classes are conducted online. Much research continues remotely. Collaboration thrives virtually. I am proud and thankful to see our community pull together, overcome obstacles, and regain our footing, despite the challenges. We are all working hard to continue our mission to advance knowledge, educate our students, and serve the world.
In the School of Science, many have refocused their research priorities to address COVID-19 investigations and have actively sought out collaborations to develop innovative solutions. Here is a glimpse of what our community is doing both in reaction and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
School of Science staff members recognized for extraordinary efforts during the Coronavirus crisis.
In the School of Science, many staff members have donned capes that many do not even realize they have put on. But their peers have noticed. These heroes’ extraordinary efforts have helped make the transition during COVID-19 easier for their colleagues and work groups at MIT. The School of Science would like to recognize several staff members wearing capes, nominated for being a COVID-19 hero. Teamwork is essential for ensuring the school runs as smoothly as possible given the unusual circumstances. Despite physical distancing, it is rewarding to see the MIT community uniting to support each other.
MIT never stops moving
The MIT community fights Covid-19 -- including researchers in the School of Science working on prevention, treatment, and impact of the disease.
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Quote from Feng Zhang, Professor in BCS, McGovern Institute, Broad Institute New York Times
"We’re excited that this could be a solution that people won’t have to rely on a sophisticated and expensive laboratory to run."
Feng Zhang, Professor in BCS, McGovern Institute, Broad Institute
New York Times
How could Covid-19 and the body’s immune response affect the brain?
Though the most immediately threatening symptoms of Covid-19 are respiratory, neuroscientists are intently studying the pandemic from the perspective of the central nervous system. Clinical research and case reports provide mounting evidence of impacts on the brain.
Quote from Alex K. Shalek, Professor of Chemistry Researchers identify cells likely targeted by Covid-19 virus
“Even though these datasets weren’t designed specifically to study Covid, it’s hopefully given us a jump start on identifying some of the things that might be relevant there.”
Alex K. Shalek, Professor of Chemistry
Researchers identify cells likely targeted by Covid-19 virus
Computational thinking class enables students to engage in COVID-19 response
Nearly 300 students join an open course that applies data science, artificial intelligence, and mathematical modeling using the Julia language to study COVID-19. “Everyone at MIT wants to contribute,” says Department of Mathematics Professor Alan Edelman. “While we at the Julia Lab are doing research in building tools for scientists, Dave and I thought it would be valuable to teach the students about some of the fundamentals related to computation for drug development, disease models, and such.”
Neuroscientist on the frontlines
Covid-19 calls Picower physician-scientist to assume another role: Front-line respiratory care
As both a neurologist who sees patients at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Picower Clinical Fellow conducting Alzheimer’s disease clinical studies at MIT, Dr. Diane Chan already has two demanding jobs. But as eastern New England’s need for Coronavirus care surged in late March, she volunteered to take on a third by joining the first wave of non-Internal Medicine doctors to be trained to evaluate patients in MGH’s respiratory illness clinics. “I’m grateful that I have skills to contribute during this time when the hospital needs our help and patients need our help,” Chan says.
Quote from Whitehead Institute Postdoc Izabella Pena Myth-busting on YouTube
“We are living a hard time, where science and education are constantly under attack. As scientists, we need to help inform people with accurate and life-saving information."
Whitehead Institute Postdoc Izabella Pena
Myth-busting on YouTube
MIT scientists explain the current state of COVID-19 testing, and how a CRISPR tool may help solve the supply problem.
Q: What kind of COVID-19 test are you developing now? A: We are working on a nucleic acid-based test that does not require complex instrumentation, rapidly returns results (with a goal of under one hour), and can be performed at a point-of-care location without trained professionals. We hope to accomplish this using a combination of techniques. First, we are incorporating isothermal amplification technologies, which, unlike current PCR-based tests, do not require intricate heating and cooling to operate. We are combining this with our CRISPR-based diagnostics, allowing for sensitive detection and readout in a simple visual format, akin to a pregnancy test. We hope that this test will significantly lower the barrier for accurate diagnosis and provide another approach for COVID-19 surveillance.
Quote from Rebecca Saxe, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT Wall Street Journal
"Right now the normal way to fulfill that need for connection is not available, so we are all getting creative about new ways to connect."
Rebecca Saxe, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT
Wall Street Journal
An experimental peptide could block Covid-19
In hopes of developing a possible treatment for Covid-19, a team of MIT chemists has designed a drug candidate that they believe may block coronaviruses’ ability to enter human cells. The MIT team reported its initial findings in a preprint posted on bioRxiv, an online preprint server, on March 20. They have sent samples of the peptide to collaborators who plan to carry out tests in human cells.
Repurposing drugs to treat COVID-19 patients
A stopgap measure to treat respiratory distress
“If this were to work, which I hope it will, it could potentially be scaled up very quickly, because every hospital already has it in their pharmacy,” says Michael Yaffe, a David H. Koch Professor of Science at MIT. “We don’t have to make a new drug, and we don’t have to do the same kind of testing that you would have to do with a new agent. This is a drug that we already use. We’re just trying to repurpose it.”