Season’s Greetings from the Director of the Center of Excellence
Dear Friends of the Centre of Excellence and the Biobank of the University of Cyprus,
With the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, it is inevitable to assess how the global community has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. About a year ago we had heard for the first time about a new infectious disease and a new coronavirus which, starting in China, in a very short time became a global issue, infecting and killing hundreds of thousands of people in all countries around the world. It was a unique opportunity for humanity around the globe to demonstrate how, through Faith in Love and Solidarity, Science and Rationality, can face such a challenge in a way that had never happened before. It is certain that if the COVID-19 pandemic had occurred 100 or even 50 years ago, the death toll would have been much higher and the misery would have wrapped up many more millions of our fellow human beings. The readiness and adaptability of the scientific community, together with scientific knowledge and direct information through modern digital technology, have enabled the rapid dissemination of information while citizens receive instructions and react at present time. Case contact tracking and molecular analysis to diagnose suspicious cases exceeded all precedents. Many businesses and countless social, educational and economic activities were activated online, which, despite the inadequacies and need for improvements, prevented complete collapse and kept the social fabric, highlighting the value of information and discipline (or indiscipline) in protection measures.
At the same time, we had the opportunity to see and experience the conspiracy that propagates fear, anxiety and doubt in knowledge and rationality, curbing progress and evolution. Any weaknesses and errors in the scientific method are not comparable to the brakes that lack of confidence in science and research seeks to put in, which is why science always triumphs. The achievement of COVID-19 vaccines in such a short period of time followed the leaps of modern biotechnology and molecular biology starting with the first genetic engineering experiments in the 1970s. These led to mRNA technology as a key material for the creation of the first SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus vaccines.
At the biobank.cy Centre of Excellence, we reacted immediately to turn the crisis into an opportunity to study and research the behavior of the new coronavirus and the human response to it. A large team of experts including geneticists, molecular biologists, epidemiologists, virologists and infectious diseases doctors from the Centre of Excellence, the Medical Schools of the Universities of Cyprus and Nicosia and the Department of Health Sciences of the European University Cyprus, we submitted a research proposal approved by the Cyprus National Bioethics Committee and is on course for implementation. The primary objective is the detection of antibodies in people who have been positive for the coronavirus but also in health professionals who have come into contact with patients and in healthy people in the general population. Equally important is the archiving of the personal and medical history of the volunteers involved and the storage of genetic and other biological material for future studies. Former COVID-19 patients are encouraged to contact the Biobank of the Centre of Excellence if they wish to participate as volunteers for free testing for antibodies against the coronavirus.
In addition to the above, 2020 was characterized by an intense activity to improve the quality of the services and capabilities of the Biobank, as well as programs to support the research of fellow Professors of the University of Cyprus in various fields. As a research infrastructure, Biobank is proving to be a key springboard for the implementation of studies since it ensures ease and quality in the storage of the archives and biological research material of researchers in our country. The team of nurses of the Centre, together with the team of technologists of the Biobank, assisted by the department of digitization and electronic security, work in a coordinated way to serve each researcher and the general objectives of the Centre.
In terms of research, the biobank.cy Centre of Excellence has important publications to display in collaboration with the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, while it has just been accepted for publication our work describing a mouse model that researchers in our Center have created and has unique characteristics. It is the first of its kind, which we believe will be particularly useful for future research into new treatments of Alport Syndrome (severe hereditary nephropathy). Already, a team from the Washington University School of Medicine, in St Louis, Missouri, USA, has expressed interest in using this animal model to test new therapeutic substances.
Equally encouraging is that our fellow researchers at the Royal Free Hospital, University College London, Department of Renal Medicine, were interested in using with us archived material of the Biobank, which is the subject of approved research work. It is the hereditary nephropathy of Troodos, which unfortunately is endemic among the Cypriot population.
Finally, it is with great satisfaction that I announce that at the beginning of December 2020, Dr Isavella Savva, Nephrologist and doctoral student at our Center, successfully presented her dissertation, as part of her studies to obtain a PhD, in the program of Medical Genetics. Isavella is the first clinical doctor to graduate with a PhD from the Department of Biological Sciences of the University of Cyprus, and perhaps the first clinician to get her PhD from all over the University, since the Medical School does not yet have a doctoral program.
Biobank.cy thanks all volunteers who support the Biobank’s work and encourages new volunteers to come to assist in its work.
We invest in the Biobank, we invest in a healthier Cyprus!
Prof. Constantinos Deltas
Director, biobank.cy, Center of Excellence in Biobanking and Biomedical Research