The NCCR TransCure in the time of Coronavirus

An exceptional situation irrupted in Year 10 of the third phase of the NCCR TransCure (Nov 2018-Oct 2022) and due to the coronavirus outbreak, our research work and daily life has endured many changes. Nevertheless, we have found new ways to carry on with our projects, and to meet and communicate, always supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation and University of Bern (our Leading House).

One fitting example was the NCCR TransCure annual retreat (14-15 May 2020), realized entirely online using webinars and virtual meetings. The participation of the NCCR TransCure members in this virtual première went beyond our expectations. Fellows smoothly presented their work through talks and posters, and scientific discussions took place either orally or via written chats. A highlight of the event was the keynote lecture by Wanda Kukulski, a new NCCR TransCure PI at the University of Bern since May 2020. Although we missed the fresh alpine air, we enjoyed the online version of the retreat! As usual, we took a group picture (see above) and we awarded prizes to the fellows for the best oral presentations. First place was won by Karthik Ramanadane (Dutzler group), with his talk on the iron transporters project, which is by the way featured in the main research article of this issue. In the article, Cristina Manatschal (Dutzler group) illustrates novel insights into iron transport physiology, pharmacology and placental iron transport in gestational diabetes. The latter topic is also the subject of one of the highlighted papers, recently published by Christiane Albrecht’s group in The FASEB Journal (doi: 10.1096/fj.201903054R). While you explore the publications section, do not forget to learn more about the advances in endocannabinoid uptake inhibitors presented in the paper by Karl-Heinz Altmann, Jürg Gertsch and collaborators, published in ChemMedChem (doi: 10.1002/cmdc.202000153).

During the lockdown, several labs had to drastically reduce their activities. A wide range of hygienic rules have been introduced to protect everybody’s health, according to the guidelines of the public health authorities. Despite all the difficulties, our researchers are eager to continue their projects at the bench, pipetting and running assays again. For those not familiar with the latter term, the article on screening assays in drug discovery is the perfect read! Simon Singer (Gertsch group), technician in the Screening, Profiling and Analytical Facility, provides an interesting overview of this method.

Many activities involving any kind of audience have also been affected by the pandemic. Seminars, workshops and outreach initiatives have been cancelled and may take place at a later time. Hence, for example, we could not welcome the group of highly gifted kids for an electrophysiology course, planned for May 2020. We look forward to seeing their smiles and listening to their questions soon. In the meantime, we can reflect on the importance of scientific events for children by reading the article by Alexandra Erler from the Parents Association for Highly Gifted Children (EHK).

We hope that a regular work rhythm and educational activities with the public will soon be possible. For the time being, you can at least virtually meet our fellows portrayed in this issue, and you can follow us through our website and online channels (Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram).

Recommending your prudence and care, we wish you a coronavirus-free, sunny and relaxed summer: stay healthy and stay safe!

H. Abriel, NCCR TransCure Director
J.-L. Reymond, NCCR TransCure Deputy Director