Laura Martin-Sancho rises to the challenge of COVID-19

| Written by Susan Gammon
Laura Martin-Sancho, Ph.D. profile photo

The journal Molecular Cell recently asked Laura Martin-Sancho to share her experience working on SARS-CoV-2 during the pandemic

COVID-19 altered our lives and pushed scientific research to operate at breakneck speed, leading to significant breakthroughs in record time. The journal Molecular Cell recently asked experts in the field—including Laura Martin-Sancho—about the challenges they faced in transitioning, rapidly but safely, to working on the virus while navigating the shutdown. Their voices converge on the importance of teamwork, forging new collaborations, and working toward a shared goal.

Here is what Laura had to say:

I remember learning about viral pandemics in university and thinking about the challenges of working with novel viruses. Of course, we virologists contemplate the idea of a global viral pandemic and we discuss this at length in grants and in research articles, but how do you respond when confronted by it? It all started in February 2020 as I was completing my postdoc studying respiratory viruses. The lab had been closely following the worrying news coming from China and decided to drop everything else and work full time on SARS-CoV-2. Once we received the virus in March, it was a race against the clock to get the right conditions, the right cells, and the right reagents to propagate the virus to high enough amounts to start testing small compounds for antiviral activity. With a starting material of barely 100 μl received from BEI Resources, and long lonely hours in the BSL3, I felt a massive relief when I finally saw that the virus was replicating. Soon after, we had optimized experimental conditions and high enough viral yields to begin the essential experiments.

It was a remarkable feeling to have the whole research institute to just the seven of us. It was just me and three other lab members, our PI, Sumit Chanda, and two members of the institute safety department. With nobody around, it felt like we were apocalyptic survivors racing to find a cure. With a non-stop schedule from 8 am to 10 pm in the lab and trying to play catch up with an everyday-evolving literature, we were barely getting any sleep but never felt so energized. I felt so supported and inspired by my family and friends back home in Spain, which was one of the initial pandemic epicenters in Europe. I felt it was our responsibility to keep going and to make discoveries that could have a meaningful contribution. And so we did. In only a few months, we evaluated thousands of small compounds (initially in collaboration with Hong Kong University, then in house), we identified the innate immune sensor for SARS-CoV-2, and we illuminated the cellular antiviral landscape to SARS-CoV-2. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without the expertise and assistance from our countless collaborators across the globe. Indeed, a story to tell my grandkids.

Read the stories from other experts in the field in this article published in Molecular Cell:

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