The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an avalanche of information since its emergence at the end of 2019.
As stated by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, “We're not just fighting a pandemic; we're fighting an infodemic”. This infodemic – the over-accumulation of information – has included scientific publications, health advisories, and news reports being published at a rapid pace. At the same time, this large amount of information has been weighed down with fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories.
To address this issue, biomedical researchers from Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) joined hands to filter misinformation and provide the wider community with credible scientific information. In the form of regular online series, QBRI experts reviewed the latest COVID-19-related research and clinical developments relevant for both the general community and scientific experts.
As a result, QBRI launched ”QBRI Insights Series” early in 2020, aiming at informing its readers about the known epidemiological behavior of COVID-19 and factors affecting disease severity, particularly stressing the need for strict mitigation strategies to protect the high-risk population and prevent overburdening the healthcare system. QBRI researchers described the structure and biological mechanism of infection by SARS-CoV-2 – the virus causing COVID-19 – and, further, how the infection machinery of the virus can be targeted to develop treatments.
Throughout the series, QBRI was able to inform readers of the latest updates on hot topics, such as the efficacy of repurposed drugs, new treatments in development, and potential vaccine candidates.
The initiative was led by editors Dr. Alexandra E. Butler, Principal Investigator at QBRI, and Dr. Adviti Naik, Postdoctoral Researcher at QBRI, along with a team of 12 contributing writers, including postdoctoral researchers, research associates, and Ph.D. students at QBRI.
Dr. Butler reflected upon this initiative, saying: “It has been a great privilege to lead a team of such highly motivated young scientists who are enthusiastic about ensuring the information being disseminated to the public about COVID-19 is not only accurate and up to date but also comprehensible, even to the non-scientist. As a team, they worked diligently towards this goal.”
Dr. Adviti added: “It has been a tremendous task to filter through the vast amounts of available information on COVID-19 and relay well-validated information to the community at large. At the same time, the initiative has strengthened the sense of effective science communication as a duty of research scientists towards our society during these challenging times.”
The overall objective behind the ongoing QBRI Insights series – which is published in both Arabic and English – is to deliver accurate and scientifically revised information and to combat misinformation in society. The insights targeted scientists, students, and the general public and were written in easy to understand language, while preserving scientific importance and accurate terminology. Moreover, the insights ensured all the information within was vetted by experienced scientists.
The insights (19 copies up to this date) are published on the QBRI and HBKU websites and shared on HBKU social media channels, attracting a large number of readers. QBRI insights are available at: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/qbri/news
On the scientific front, QBRI has been involved with the pandemic since March 2020. QBRI responded logistically by providing both valuable technical equipment and scientific staff from the institute for Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) through a joint volunteer program.
In parallel, QBRI worked with HMC to create a research program that specializes in studying the virus and is aimed at developing diagnostic tests through examination of the immune responses in infected people. Having these locally developed tests available helped increase local testing capacity and maintain sufficient supplies, in case of any shortage in imported tests.
QBRI also put in place efforts to analyze proteins in the blood of people infected with the virus and identified a protein fingerprint that accurately predicts the risk of complications early on, such as the likelihood of a patient requiring ventilation and the risk of death from COVID-19. The protein biomarkers may predict treatments that have not yet been developed until today, providing another aspect to explore as a result of this study. QBRI also Launched collaborative project with WISH and Qatar Autism Society on “The Effect of Covid-19 Pandemic on Autism Spectrum Disorder”.
In parallel to its insight series, QBRI also conducted several webinars that tackled COVID- 19 related topics and invited international experts to host informative and educational sessions QBRI’s main research focus is on diabetes, cancer, neurological disorders and recently infectious diseases, the institute also houses state-of-the-art core facilities that actively support scientific research by providing advanced research technologies and services to the research community in Qatar and worldwide. The facilities are located in the same building as QBRI’s research centers and form an integral element of QBRI’s ambitious goals in driving visionary and innovative research in Qatar.
Through its intellectual and applied scientific efforts, QBRI strongly supports the translation of novel scientific discoveries into more efficient therapies and better preventative strategies for human diseases, ultimately leading to the development of personalized medicine.