Dr. Rebecca Delventhal is a postdoc in Mimi Shirasu-Hiza’s lab working on fruit fly genetics. Frustrated by the failures she was reading about in rapid diagnostic testing, she thought that there should be a way to get it right. Although she signed up larger national efforts against COVID, many weren’t in her area of expertise. When she heard of the project, she believed 10 years at the bench would be put to good use: “the one thing I can do is pipet really accurately.” She happened to be on campus when she got the recruitment call and responded immediately that she could come in for the pipetting test later that day. She was excited to have quantitative proof of her super accurate pipetting (“Oh, I actually do pipet really accurately!”), but especially she was happy to know that these skills could be useful for combating the pandemic. “Feeling useful helps me.”
Dr. Tian Li is a staff scientist in an immunogenetic lab at Columbia. Her current position is in pathology working with patients’ blood and bone marrow samples. Her conviction was that these are critical and severe times “we must do everything we can” and “we must fight it.” As pipetting and immunology were familiar to her, she could easily adapt her skills to this project. Humbly, Tian stated that she was happy to “contribute [her] small part to this project” and would like to continue volunteering to combat COVID-19.
Dr. John Christin is a native New Yorker and a postdoc studying bladder cancer genetics in Micheal Shen’s lab. He “didn't like being cooped up” at home and wanted to help. John had years of ELISA experience on mouse samples from when he was an undergrad at Hunter College. John was personally struck by the gravity of the pandemic. He flew to Italy in February just as the pandemic was starting there and needed to be quarantined for 2 weeks before returning to the US. Because he started to feel ill at that time, he himself got an antibody test recently. It was negative. But in thinking about how broad the range of symptoms and severity of COVID-19 illness, John points out that the antibody testing can help us know how many are actually affected. “It’s been great to help.”
Dr. Barbara Corneo, who works in the Stem Cell Core in the Black building at CUIMC, wanted to use her expertise too. When the shelter-in-place orders went out, the core had to hustle to quickly finish experiments and save what they could to prevent any major losses. She was at home working on administrative aspects of her job, but still wanted to help her colleagues and patients. Although she states she was fearful of performing any patient-facing projects at the hospital, her precise pipetting skills and background in stem cell research allowed her to be a good fit for the project. Given the possibility that antibodies could confer some immunity, she was excited to work on the team. “If I can help patients and my colleagues at Columbia, I thought why not.” Barbara herself received an antibody test at a different site and hoped to be positive in order to donate her plasma, but given she grew up in Europe during the Mad Cow Disease outbreak she doesn’t think she would be able to. Even when normal life returns, Barbara wants to continue helping as a volunteer to combat COVID-19.
Dr. Christopher Ricupero is an associate research scientist whose background is in neuroscience. He came into Columbia to do stem cell biology with a focus on neurogenetic disease modeling in the Center for Dental and Craniofacial Research. When the center was ramped down in March, he (relatably) found himself over-consuming news and grew concerned about undetected community spread especially with the testing issues in the country. Inspired by the doctors and nurses, he felt he needed to help out and because of his expertise, he felt he could jump into projects to help on the serology testing team. Although it was “the wild west” with regards to rapid, diagnostic antibody tests’ sensitivity and specificity, he grew excited by the opportunity to help work with the Hod lab utilizing a more specific, ELISA-based antibody assay. He emailed the CRAC Serological Testing Chief Project Manager, Natalie Steinemann, even before the volunteer sign-up was posted. “I wanted to get hands-on… If I can help people get back to work safely, that’s what I want to do.”
-Post 5: If not now, when? If not us, who? Perspectives on Stepping Up During Dual Pandemics
-Post 4: Answering the call: CRAC Serology Testing Volunteers Join the Fight Against COVID-19
-Volunteer Profiles: An opportunity to “meet” some of the serology testing volunteers
-Post 3: The human scrub machine
- Post 2: Biobank volunteers process 15,500 samples
- Post 1: The CRAC organizational structure
Covid-19 has changed what matters.
The CRAC team was born as a grassroots response to a pandemic none of us has experienced in their lifetime. CRAC has now grown into a community of like-minded postdocs, students, faculty, and administrators, from across Columbia University - a diverse and inclusive ecosystem of talented individuals with a simple goal: support projects to address what matters now, the fight against covid-19.
These are the stories of how the CRAC ecosystem has evolved and continues to adapt to bring life to efforts that became bigger than the sum of their parts. These are also the stories of single individuals who continue to inspire others with their unheralded efforts.