As a mother of three young children, I hardly ever have time to go to international congresses. But if something good has come out of this pandemic is that many conferences and trainings are now virtual. One of the advantages of these on line events is that you have access to all the talks for a few weeks, so you can actually listen to more talks than what a real life conference will make possible.
At the end of October I was able to follow, from the comfort of my house, the EMBO symposium “Organoids Modelling Organ Development and Disease in 3D Culture” co-organized by Hans Clevers, one of the NOCI founding members. He and several of the members of his lab were presenting, among them was one of the NOCI PhDs, Cayetano Pleguezuelos Manzano. He presented his work recently published in Nature in a short talk titled “Mutational signature in colorectal cancer caused by genotoxic pks+ E. coli”.

The NOCI training was also forced to move to a virtual platform. The TUD planned a training in June in Delft but it has to be postponed. Finally, on the 3rd of December we had our first Virtual practical training. Like one of the speakers, Profesor Lina Sarro mentioned during her talk having a virtual practical training is a paradox in itself. However, Dr. Massimo Mastrangeli and his team of “avatars” (H. Aydogmus, M. Dostanic, P. Motreuil-Ragot and N. Revyn) did a fantastic job! After a morning program with talks, we had a Virtual cleanroom tour followed by the microfabrication of two wafers using subtractive and additive processes respectively. The short videos intercalated by explanations made the training very interactive and easy to follow. All the participants received a surprise packet at home to finish the training with a virtual “borrel” where we could make a toast with our own customise NOCI beer.

In the midst of the Corona pandemic where everybody is hoping for a rapid end by a working vaccine, Organ-on-Chip also got in on the act. The USA agency for food and drug safety, FDA, has announced that it will use Lung-on-Chips made by Emulate, a spin-off company from Harvard University, to test protection by new COVID19 vaccines. The idea is to infect the cells lining the lung chip with different COVID strains to test their infectivity, test the immune responses from different human blood plasma samples with neutralizing antibodies and test the effectiveness of different pre-made anti-COVID antibodies. The underlying questions regard the wide range of COVID sensitivities and immune-responses observed between different individuals.

I wish a Merry Christmas to all the NOCI members full of virtual meetings with friends and family.

Cristina Gontan Pardo – NOCI Postdoc EMC