COVID-19 has a strong presence in the ESOF2020 programme

By Lorenza Masé

The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced the organisers of ESOF, the Euroscience Open Forum, to modify the original programme and adapt it to the new sanitary emergency. But it also presents a new opportunity of discussion among policymakers, scientists and economists.

A session scheduled for 3 September is of particular interest and will be held at 10:15 in Auditorium 28A. The session will present the results of two different research projects The first is about the impact of COVID-19 in the brain and the second is about plant-based vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, which causes the illness. The debate will be moderated by the world-renowned expert and Financial Times Science Editor, Clive Cookson.

Thomas Hartung, a famous toxicologist from the John Hopkins University of Baltimore, will also take part in the discussion. Hartung and his research group seem to have found proof that coronavirus can infect the brain and can replicate itself within brain cells, which may cause neurological complications that are still unclear and unknown.

For instance, it is not clear whether loss of smell, which is a common COVID-19 symptom, is caused by a direct infection of smell neurons, or is a collateral effect of other cells involved with the sense of smell. Some patients even present symptoms of inflammation, vertigo, headache and convulsions. Tiredness, weakness and memory loss can occur long after the virus has disappeared. Light brain damage may become visible only after several years after the infection. It would be especially worrying if the virus could affect the brains of embryos in pregnant patients.

We do not yet have an answer on when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available. Related to this, experts from the Southampton University will elaborate on their research on the development of a vaccine based on DNA sequencing and gene editing of the wild tobacco plant.  The same research team has already received authorization from the Federal Drug Administration for the production and usage of wild tobacco based drugs to fight Ebola.

The last topic of the debate will be dedicated to the chaos created by contrasting news and information. It has reached the point that even the WHO includes mention of ‘infodemics’ --  the overload of often-false information about a crisis -- in its reports. The difficult situation we have been living during these last months make us all very vulnerable to the fake news and conspiracy theories that exacerbate preoccupation, anxiety and fear.

We believe that a vaccine, whenever it will be ready, can become a precious tool to protect us against the coronavirus. But these efforts may evaporate if governments and experts cannot find a common agreement and convince us to trust in science.

There are several other opportunities to discuss topics related to COVID-19 within the ESOF programme. One worth noticing is an event featuring Prof. Alberto Mantovani, professor emeritus and Scientific Director of the “Humanitas”, based in Milan, who will speak about “Immunity, from cancer to COVID-19: dreams and challenges” which will take place on 2 September at 11:00 in Auditorium 28H.

Immunotherapy or biological therapy is the treatment of disease by activating or suppressing the immune system, and it has had very positive effects against some forms of cancer.  Today, our common enemy, COVID-19, has laid bare that we know too little about immune reactions. Prof. Mantovani’s talk will explain how a better understanding of the interaction between immunity and SARS-CoV-2 could open up to new diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities.

Not to be missed is also the roundtable “What if COVID-19 were the September 11 of global health?” moderated by Financial Times Science Editor Clive Cookson, which will bring together health professionals and major international players in policy making, which will take place on 4 September at 8:30 in Auditorium 28A.

Among other speakers we highlight: Salim Abdool Karim, a clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist widely recognized for scientific contributions to HIV prevention and treatment from South Africa; and Michel Kazatchkine, a french physician, diplomat and advocate best-known for his work in international AIDS treatment issues. Kazatchkine was also the director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria from February 2007 to March 2012.

The common goal of these discussions is to look back at the pandemics and see how the global community has responded to it. It is important to understand what went wrong and what went right, with the common premise that if September 11th has forever changed our lives in terms of state security, COVID-19 will forever change the future of global public health.

For a complete programme:

Courtesy of Il Piccolo

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