Here at the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), we’re taking the novel coronavirus COVID-19, which was recently declared a pandemic by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), extremely seriously. Per the recommendations of the CDC, we’ve enacted measures to encourage social distancing among our staff. As of Friday, March 13, the majority of the team at our Cambridge, MA office, including many of those in our laboratory, has been working remotely from home.
Our ALS Research Will NOT Stop
Last week, as it became clear that the situation around COVID-19 was worsening, ALS TDI’s Chief Scientific Officer, Fernando Vieira, M.D., met with the executive team to draft a plan for the lab’s operation in the coming days or weeks.
The goal was to determine what aspects of research could be accomplished remotely, which projects needed to be kept going in the lab, which could be put on hold, and, most importantly, what staff would be needed to come into the lab to keep things running.
“I’m proud and inspired by how the team has come together to continue working, under atypical conditions, to press forward to complete our mission, while also doing our best to mitigate the spread of this virus,” says Dr. Vieira.
Dr. Vieira and team arrived at a plan that will see most of the science team working remotely, while others will come in to continue essential experiments and other tasks in shifts. The most pressing need requiring people in the lab is the maintenance of our animal care facility. Moving forward, two scientists will trade off weeklong shifts, making sure that the mice and zebrafish in our lab are properly cared for. A handful of other scientists will come in one to two days a week to continue work on drug screens that cannot be paused, and continue data collection from our Precision Medicine Program (PMP). The rest of the science team will continue to diligently work on other aspects of our ALS research from their homes, although these arrangements will be revisited weekly to determine if and when it’s safe for the team to return to the lab.
Dr. Vieira stressed, “Our science team will continue to work and our ALS research will press on, but we all must do our part to contain the spread of the virus. I am as grateful to the people who stay home as I am to the people that are going into the lab.”
What About ALS TDI Fundraising?
Practicing social distancing in the coming days or weeks will be necessary to protect ourselves and others from getting sick. Even though younger, healthier people generally seem to exhibit mild symptoms from the disease, they can still pass along the virus to others, including those at high risk from COVID-19, which includes people with ALS.
People who are immunosuppressed, over the age of 60, and have comorbidities, or the presence of more than one disease, are at particular risk for the most severe symptoms of the virus. This describes many people within the ALS community, especially those living with ALS.
For this reason, in the coming days and weeks, we will be reevaluating many of our planned fundraising events. We hope that we will still be able to hold as many as possible, but as the situation evolves some events will likely need to be postponed or cancelled. These fundraisers are essential to our mission to find effective treatments for ALS. We hope that our generous supporters throughout the ALS community will keep this in mind as the situation evolves. Your generosity matters now more than ever. Visit www.als.net/help-fund-treatments to learn more.
In the meantime, we ask that you stay safe: wash your hands, keep your home clean, and practice social distancing. Check in on the high-risk people in your life and, if you are at high-risk yourself, be sure to limit your potential exposure. You can learn more about COVID-19 and the proper precautions to take here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. Specific guidelines for those at a high risk for serious illness can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html