Join the COVID-19 Research Student Group

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A new unique timely campus organization is helping students learn and be a part of COVID-19 research and breakthroughs with the new COVID-19 Innovation and Discovery Research Interest Group of UCSF.

As of October 5, 2021, there have been a record 4,500,000 COVID-19 deaths worldwide including over 700,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. The enormous toll cannot be overstated, and the impact in the U.S. is illustrated by how COVID-19 quickly became the number three cause of death after heart disease and cancer.

That UCSF has garnered its resources to combat this disease is not unusual; it has been at the forefront of medical research and innovation for decades. Thus, the aggressive efforts of UCSF scientists were not surprising since scientific research and therapeutic discovery are part and parcel of the UCSF tradition. After all, this is the institution where prions, telomerase, proto-oncogenes, surfactant, and vitamin E were discovered and advancements in the management of HIV, diabetes, pernicious anemia, among other diseases have changed the face of medicine.

These pivotal innovations were the product of phenomenal scientists at UCSF. Yet, how does the student body at one of the world’s leading health sciences institutions engage with the research community and partake in disease discovery and innovation at the time of one of the biggest pandemics in human history? How do students become educated in the latest advances and research of any given disease, since these are not necessarily taught in the classroom?

One might even pose the following question: at an institution that is currently home to six noble laureates and has changed the shape of medicine, what role do its students play in innovation and discovery? Does the spirit of scientific breakthrough and discovery merely reside among research faculty? Interestingly, throughout the UCSF campus and among its student body across its various graduate schools, there actually is a latent spirit of inquiry, passion for research, and desire to help humanity through science.

It is no surprise then that one of the first (if not only) student-run organizations related to COVID-19 research in the entire country has now been established at UCSF: COVID-19 Innovation and Discovery Research Interest Group of UCSF, a newly registered campus organization (RCO). The purpose of this RCO is to create a forum for the exchange of innovative ideas related to COVID-19 therapeutics, educate its members on the latest research and innovations, provide research/publication opportunities, and promote scholarly discussions which will provide insights on the latest research worldwide pertaining to COVID-19 therapeutics and disease management. Overall, it aims to foster a spirit of innovative investigative inquiry among the UCSF student community.

We are especially keen on having students be a part of the innovation and discovery process for this disease. Thus, our organization bridges a gap between students and medical discovery and innovation by bringing together faculty researchers and students for discussion. The RCO will be an educational experience for participants; activities will include zoom talks every 2-3 weeks from leading researchers around the world in the field who will discuss their research/papers, journal club evert few weeks, as well as student discussions on the latest COVID-19 innovations and discoveries. A unique emphasis will be placed on the innovative translational aspects of the disease including (but not limited to) innovations in respirators and mechanical ventilation, drug discovery, prophylactic measures, vaccine and booster development, the role of CRISPR, and bioengineering aspects.

One of the special goals of the RCO is to highlight the extraordinary COVID-19 research that continues at UCSF among the UCSF student body across its various graduate schools. To this end, we are excited about our unique partnership with the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) at UCSF, which has agreed to help provide us with many guest speakers throughout the academic year who have been involved with original COVID-19 research here at UCSF as part of the QBI Coronavirus Research Group (QCRG). Researchers at QCRG were the first to create a genomic map of COVID-19 and discovered the interaction of the virus with 332 host proteins in humans.

Importantly, we also plan to periodically disseminate information on opportunities for participation in COVID-19-related research projects and ongoing publications.

When I founded this RCO, I encountered a variety of views, including the notion of whether such a group would be long-lasting. Some mentioned the “COVID fatigue” that has understandably set in among many students and researchers. Yet, the pressing nature of this disease is so great that it supersedes any considerations of whether this will be a short-lived group. In fact, our ultimate desire is that this be a very short-lived RCO and that COVID-19 becomes a non-issue in the world. Yet, as long as the reality of COVID-19 faces us, we should do our (small) part to galvanize the intellectual energy that exists throughout UCSF, including among its students, to foster innovations and discoveries among the UCSF community.

Our campus organization is fortunate to benefit from the guidance of Dr. Monica Gandhi, a UCSF professor of medicine, premier infectious disease specialist, and prominent COVID-19 expert, who will officially serve as our faculty advisor. Since Dr. Gandhi was an integral part of the UCSF response to the HIV epidemic in the 1980s, her presence and advising is ideal for our RCO. Dr. Gandhi has been especially highly visible lately through media appearances to discuss the latest developments in COVID-19.

While it is student-led, our RCO is open to everyone in the UCSF community. We deliberately intended to create an interprofessional organization to ensure access and visibility throughout all the UCSF graduate schools. Our leadership team consists of students in the schools of medicine, pharmacy, and the graduate division. As the founder of this RCO and a student in the master of translational medicine (MTM) program at UCSF (joint program with UC Berkeley), I can attest to the fact that there cannot be a greater need for translational discoveries in COVID-19.

If you have novel ideas about COVID-19 diagnosis, therapeutics, and management, wish to a part of the academic conversation, or just want to learn about the latest research in this field, you should join our RCO. Anyone at UCSF can join by visiting our website: https://ucsf.campusgroups.com/cidrig/home/. One can also come to the virtual RCO Fair today 5:15-6:30pm to learn more about our organization and sign up there as well. It is truly befitting that this unique and timely student-led organization has its origins at UCSF. Again, we hope that our RCO is quite short-lived. But the reality seems to be that COVID-19 will be a pressing problem for humanity for several years to come. We hope you will join us in the scholarly conversation on tackling COVID-19.