Coronavirus is changing the way we share research. That’s a good thing

That scientific cultural shift comes in response to the need for answers. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly, but knowledge must travel faster.

Vials of investigational coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment drug remdesivir are capped at a Gilead Sciences facility in La Verne, California, U.S. March 18, 2020. (photo credit: GILEAD SCIENCES INC/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Vials of investigational coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment drug remdesivir are capped at a Gilead Sciences facility in La Verne, California, U.S. March 18, 2020.
(photo credit: GILEAD SCIENCES INC/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
If we’ve learned anything as COVID-19 has spread around the world, it’s that we are more connected globally than ever before – for better and for worse. Health care systems in every country are facing existential threats. Doctors from Milan to New York to California and beyond are operating without critical supplies like masks and gowns, putting their own lives at risk as they fight to save lives. In this crisis, a new culture of research has emerged around the globe, with scientists breaking down borders and cooperating in new and innovative ways.
That scientific cultural shift comes in response to the need for answers. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly, but knowledge must travel faster. Sharing a breakthrough in one lab or hospital with the rest of the world has become paramount in our fight for survival. Now, more than ever, we must leverage our interconnectedness, share what we discover, and learn from one another to beat COVID-19.
Institutions that are built on the premise of global cooperation can lead the way. With campuses in Haifa, New York City, and Shanghai, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology has mobilized quickly, taking strides toward contributing to the race for knowledge. Crisis is not new to Israel and its institutions of higher learning. In this moment, the professors, researchers, alumni and affiliates of the Technion are tapping into their ability to remain calm and confident while operating on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.
From early detection and diagnosis to robotic solutions for remote monitoring and care of patients, researchers in 45 Technion labs are working around the clock to help fight the spread of COVID-19. Among them is Prof. Avi Schroeder, who is racing towards a vaccine. While advising the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command on dealing with the pandemic, he is working on deploying his antiviral technology that saves farm-raised shrimp from a deadly disease to protect humans against the coronavirus.
He isn’t the only one who has transformed his lab into a committed research effort against this pandemic. Prof. Eyal Zussman and Israel’s Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Defense R&D have produced a 3D printed sticker for surgical masks. Equipped with nanometric fibers coated with antiseptics, the sticker neutralizes viruses from droplets that might reach the mask, arming medical staff with improved protection.
Prof. Ezri Tarazi’s lab is also tackling the challenges of current personal gear – which often fogs up and makes seeing difficult – by working with doctors at the Rambam Health Care Campus to develop an “air shield” device. Placed inside a protective mask, it generates airflow while isolating the wearer from the surrounding atmosphere.
And Prof. Josué Sznitman is fast-tracking a potentially life-saving technology – called Liquid Foam Therapy – for treating Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, recognized as the leading cause of mortality in COVID-19 patients. They are joined by many colleagues who are digging into their areas of expertise to find solutions during this global health crisis. If they are successful, they’ll help turn the tide when it comes to treating COVID-19 and controlling its wildfire spread.
These efforts go hand-in-hand with the need for rapid testing. A team of researchers from Israel’s Rambam Health Care Campus and the Technion have been first responders in helping turn the tide on this front. Within days, they successfully demonstrated a method to rapidly increase the volume of samples tested per day – a complex feat that under normal circumstances would have taken months. Known as pooling, the method enables simultaneous testing of dozens of samples in a single test tube. Individual tests are then only conducted in rare cases when a joint sample reads positive. The method also addresses the monitoring of asymptomatic carriers in the population, which is vital to curbing the pandemic.
As Israel’s top minds work diligently, they join scientists, researchers, doctors, nurses, government officials, and others all over the world who are working to defeat this virus. And in the wake of this difficult time, I am confident that this cooperation and knowledge-sharing will lead to a new age of lasting respect for the interconnectedness of our global community.
I am a product of that global community, having lived and worked in several countries, including Germany, Kazakhstan, the UK, France and the United States. I’ve seen firsthand the remarkable benefit of the exchange of ideas between countries. In the case of COVID-19, it’s no different.
During this time, we can all do our part to share what we know. Albert Einstein, one of the founders of the first Technion Society, said, “Example isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.” The imperative of the moment is clear: there is an opportunity to teach by example today, and we must come together and fight for the greater good of the world. 
The writer is the CEO of the American Technion Society, which supports visionary education and world-changing impact through the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.