The Conversation Spain
Covid-19 vaccines and the importance of basic research
Shutterstock / anyaivanova How wonderful to have vaccines! What spectacular progress! What an extraordinary achievement for mankind! These are comments that come to us from all the countries of the world, through all the media, expressed in all languages. It is the unanimous shout of admiration as we contemplate how, after competing in the most amazing race in its history, science reaches the goal and synthesizes the vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 in record time. Yes, it is great that this recognition is made. It is fair and necessary. But… let’s pause. I invite you to have a glass of your favorite drink and delight ourselves by remembering the famous phrase that Isaac Newton, considered the greatest scientist of all time, included in a letter to Robert Hooke: If I have seen further, it is by standing on shoulders of giants. More than interesting reflections can be extracted from this resounding sentence: Newton, the most brilliant, the protagonist of the culminating moment of the scientific revolution according to Bernard Cohen, stopped to recognize the merit of those who preceded him. He, number one, in addition to intellectual talents, also had the moral virtue of humility. Important as specific achievements are, scientific advancement is possible thanks to the substrate of knowledge that many others before you have created. In pandemic language, the successes of Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca have been possible because there was invaluable previous knowledge generated by conscientious research groups in microbiology, biochemistry, immunology, genetics, physiology, molecular biology and animal biology, among other areas of research. biomedical. The shoulders that they raised to him so that he could discover what he discovered were not those of just any, they were of giants. It thus recognizes the merit and importance of those who dedicate their lives to the wonderful task of unraveling the universe. Let us use the example of Newton and make a deserved tribute to those who practice basic research, to all those men and women who dedicate their efforts to developing unusual, strange, curious, eccentric and diverse lines of work. Let us recognize the value of those who are indifferent to insolent comments of the type “and what you do, what is it for?” . Let us value those who forget about lunchtime bent over under a microscope, motivated only to get to uncover why or how it works. It is they who make the great discoveries that nurture basic science. They are the ones that make possible the advances on which, a posteriori, concrete applications will be made to solve specific problems. Ultimately, it is they who then allow others to exclaim: Eureka! If Severo Ochoa raised his head To illustrate the duality of basic research / applied research, let us think of the biochemist and molecular biologist Severo Ochoa, Nobel Prize in Medicine. His research with RNA polymerase, something completely new and unknown at the time, contributed decisively to the development of a whole new field of work. What a shame that he cannot enjoy, 60 years after being applauded in Stockholm, the mother of all shows: new generations of molecular biologists neutralizing a pandemic with vaccines based on their RNA. Intellectually, second to none. Look, I heartily applauded the toilets. I have been proud of the state security forces and bodies. I have been moved by the solidarity actions of those who helped the transporters when the service areas were closed. All of us who have a minimal sense of citizenship have felt grateful to know that we belong to a society that works and we have expressed this. But, in addition to hospitals, police stations, supermarkets or gas stations, there were more important lights on. They were those in the laboratories of science faculties and research centers around the world. Our PhD students continued to go there because the embryos continued to grow, the hybridomas continued to produce their monoclonal antibodies, the cell cultures continued to proliferate, and the experimental animals had to continue to be fed. In short, the basic scientific experiments, prior to any clinical trial in humans, continued. A brutal effort by the scientific community The brutal work effort by generations of women and men of science could not be stopped by the pandemic, nor could we allow ourselves to throw away the millions of euros that its commissioning entails. With their special permits accredited by the rectors of their respective universities, our young scientists (because they were the ones who were risking their doctoral theses, the seniors were directing from our safe houses) entered concrete masses full of blinking devices almost with fear. , because there is nothing more sinister than a silent faculty without students. Our excellent doctors, nurses and other paramedics receive for their work something that is worth much more than their salaries: the thanks of their patients, the smiles of their families, the admiration of their acquaintances and, in these moments of pandemic, the well-deserved thunderous applause of the whole society. But health workers apply therapies and medicines to patients based on the discoveries made by scientists (biologists, en masse), in silence, without applause and, sometimes, even without contracts. No one applauds them, my dear colleagues, teachers and pupils, scientists as a whole. And it is not because people are ungrateful, it is because their very important work is not known enough. I think it is time to start fixing this enormous injustice. Good scientific dissemination must be done, the transfer of research results to society must be recognized (curricularly and financially), good conference cycles must be organized, round tables and informative debates must be financially supported. In short, scientific work must be recognized socially and valued in a generalized way. Detail of the stained glass windows of the south transept of Chartres Cathedral. Wikimedia Commons / PtrQs, CC BY-SA My closest readers know of my love of art. There are wonderful stained glass windows in Chartres Cathedral. I especially like the ones with the pointed windows under the rose window of the south transept. In them, the four evangelists (New Testament) are seen on the shoulders of the main prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel), flanking the Virgin with the Child. Perhaps they can serve as an inspiration for the monument that should be made, when all this happens, to all who have collaborated in this titanic fight against COVID-19. The title could very well be On the Shoulders of Giants.This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original. A. Victoria de Andrés Fernández does not receive a salary, nor does she work as a consultant, nor does she own shares, nor does she receive financing from any company or organization that may benefit from this article, and she has declared that she has no relevant links beyond the academic position cited.