Life saving research halted during pandemic

ATLANTA — Lab safety concerns have forced many studies on cancer, ALS and other diseases to pause. All around the country, research labs are either shut down or busy working to fight COVID-19.

“A lot of experiments have stopped; people can’t get into their labs. People who work in clinics have been diverted to COVID,” researcher Dr. Susanne Warner said. Warner worries this could have long-term effects. “I hope it doesn’t, but it may put us back in terms of cancer research and other research for months and, frankly, years to come.”

The Atlanta-based American Cancer Society recently released a survey that found 59% of researchers reported their institution closed labs. Last month, the nonprofit approved funding for research and training grants totaling $36,165,100.

Warner is one of the researchers getting funding from the American Cancer Society.

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“One thing that COVID has fostered that is an unanticipated benefit is a lot of collaboration,” said Warner, adding that many scientists are seeking out ways to make the most of the time and data they have at home. “We’ve generated several new lines of inquiry as a result of being able to stop and look back at some things that we were looking at from a different angle before.”

Dr. Jonathan Glass has studied ALS treatments for 30 years. His in-person research is on hold right now, but that hasn’t stopped his studies completely. “Maybe we’ll make some discoveries on our computers that we wouldn’t have otherwise made,” Glass said.

Glass said he sees innovation come from the pandemic not just in the research field but also in the clinical field, such as telehealth services. “I think it’s going to change the way we do research and clinical care in the future,” he said.