Alessandro Sette is a Professor at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, UCSD. He has devoted more than 35 years to the study of immune responses and was named as one of the top 400 influential researchers in the last 15 years. His lab was first to define successful adaptive response to SARS CoV2 and defined durability of immune memory in natural infection and vaccination. They reported the phenomenon of SARS CoV2 preexisting immune memory in unexposed donors and demonstrated its influence on vaccination outcomes and demonstrated that T cell responses are largely preserved in terms of recognition of SARS CoV2 variants, including Omicron and Delta.
Since the start of the pandemic, he advocated a fact-based approach to informing the general public, though publications, social media and media interviews. This resulted in over 600 interviews, published and/or aired in over 100 different countries. The Data generated by the group and by the scientific community at large are constantly curated and made freely available to the scientific community through the Immune Epitope Database (IEDB). The epitope pools developed by the group are used to measure responses; they have been provided to over 150 labs, in tens of different countries in 6 continents; and resulted in countless collaborative studies.
Inhistorical research, originating from an interview with Dulbecco, many have lamented a decline in the open discussion of ideas in biomedical science. There are recent signs, however, that biologists can adopt more collaborative styles when faced with scientific challenges, as in the case of the Human Cell Atlas initiative described by Aviv Regev and Sarah Teichmann. You have been part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. What can you tell us about the behavior of the biomedical community when faced with this major health threat?
We did our share regarding the sharing of reagents, but it was a much greater experience throughout the world of people sharing ideas and information. It was a general mode of action and communication. I would for example mention Eric Topol's blog, and many calls and forums organized by WHO, CEPI, and many others. Or the SAVE initiative, sponsored by NIH (De Grace et al, 2022).
Another important aspect was that scientists used extensively LinkedIn and especially Twitter to communicate results in real time. It also became almost the norm for different groups to make scientific studies generally available by posting them on bioRxiv before the papers had completed peer reviewed and were accepted for publication (Watson, 2022). Many journals also further facilitated the flow of information by making studies available in e-form before publication, and also by making them “open access”.
We certainly face intellectual challenges to understand complex aspects of biology, including the immune system, and to organize large amount of data, which are often collected in forms that are not consistent and not easy to compare. If fully exploiting the opportunities provided by recent AI developments will require a large collective intellectual effort, the biomedical community has already shown that it is able to respond appropriately.
- DeGrace, M.M. et al 2022. Defining the risk of SARS-CoV-2 variants on immune protection. Nature, 605(7911), pp.640-652.
- Watson, C., 2022. Rise of the preprint: how rapid data sharing during COVID-19 has changed science forever. Nat Med, 28(1), pp.2-5.