New Normal. New Opportunity.

  • 20 April, 2020
deepak square

The words “shelter in place” changed everything – for our labs, our research, our community. We’ve had to pause, pivot, and reimagine how we move forward.

Yet, amidst the challenges of the new normal, we see opportunity bloom across the scientific community. There are new and critical applications for our research, new ways to connect, and a re-invigoration of scientific collaboration that transcends borders, politics, even pandemics. In my own experience, I have found virtual meetings and connections to sometimes be even easier and more effective than previous in-person versions. It is likely that the way we communicate and connect with one another will change more permanently, even after life gets back to a new normal.

With this in mind, I am proud to say the ISSCR plans to hold our Annual Meeting in a new format, embracing the opportunity we may have to reach even more people throughout the world in the midst of this pandemic. With the ability to do mechanistic science and drug discovery using human organoids and other human stem cell-derivatives, our community will play a pivotal role in innovating our way out of this crisis. This makes it all the more important we have a rich sharing of ideas through our Annual Meeting.

ISSCR Reimagines Annual Meeting to Virtual Event
To ensure that important advances in stem cell science are shared and discussed with our scientific community, ISSCR is transforming our 2020 annual meeting to a virtual format.

While we know this experience will be different, you can be assured that our focus is on providing the exceptional programming that is the cornerstone of the ISSCR mission. I am excited that the virtual format may allow many more people to attend without the usual limitations of travel and time constraints. We will try to have the planned breakout sessions for mentoring, women in science, career development, among others, and even have virtual social events! If you have ideas on how to optimize our meeting, please do let us know, as this is new to all of us.  Our exhibitors are also looking forward to sharing their latest advances and opportunities with you. As a member of the Society and the stem cell community, I ask that you show support for this investment in our field by attending ISSCR 2020 Virtual and sharing this opportunity with your colleagues and friends. I assure you we will do everything possible to make this a fun and enriching experience that is accessible to the greatest number worldwide.

This transformation is the culmination of tremendous contingency planning among ISSCR volunteer leaders and staff to determine how we might move ahead – and we know so much more work is to come over the next weeks. We don’t have all of the details yet, but they are coming soon, and ISSCR will communicate greater details when they are known each step of the way.

While this has been key focus of the Society over the last month and more, the ISSCR also has worked to offer resources, assess how members are adjusting to the scale down of labs and projects, and how ISSCR’s scientific journal, Stem Cell Reports is helping to ensure important stem cell science is communicated during this pandemic.

ISSCR Activities Adapt to Member Needs
The Society launched the webpage COVID-19 Resources for the Stem Cell Community on 6 April, which collates science related to the pandemic, virtual teaching resources, funding information, virtual courses and seminars, best practices in remote teaching, volunteer opportunities, and more. This resource will grow, and suggestions can be shared at Covid19@isscr.org.

ISSCR also launched a survey to help quantify how stem cell scientists are affected by COVID-19 and changes in their work, labs, and training. The results will be evaluated and shared on the COVID-19 Resources website page this Spring and will help guide and refine our programming. The ISSCR also will be able to share insights on how colleagues are coping and what changes they are experiencing as a way to help exchange ideas, strategies, and build community among our members.

Further, in his 2 April letter, Stem Cell Reports Editor in Chief Martin Pera reflected on the importance of scientific communication in our field throughout this period of isolation and enforced reduction in research output. Stem Cell Reports, your Society-owned journal, not only is committed to publishing excellent stem cell science, but revenue generated from the journal directly benefits the stem cell field by supporting ISSCR educational programming and events, public education about stem cells science, and public policy efforts that help to ensure funding and appropriate regulatory policies around the world.

Colleagues & Institutions Worldwide Address COVID-19
While my own institution has shifted focus to address COVID-19, ranging from diagnostics, vaccines, and use of lung organoids and human iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes for understanding mechanisms of disease and drug discovery, it has been inspiring to learn how others in stem cell field are working to solve this crisis. Several board members have taken the time to share what is happening in their institutions and among their colleagues as well. The ISSCR will share a short synopsis of what our board members have shared, to complement what is learned from our members through the ISSCR COVID-19 Survey in a report to be posted on the ISSCR website in the coming month.

Let us know what you are working on or how you and your institution may be adjusting, contributing, investigating, and volunteering to address the pandemic by emailing COVID19@ISSCR.org or posting on Twitter using #ISSCRCOVID19. We are one global stem cell community, and ISSCR is committed to its mission to promote excellence in stem cell science and applications to human health in all ways it may take shape in the months and years to come.