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Friday, May 29, 2020

Academics & Research

COVID-19 complicates student research on psychology, chemotherapy alternatives


Lab members who are not approved to continue essential research on campus are advised to focus instead on other aspects of research such as reading, writing and data analysis. | Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

Lab members who are not approved to continue essential research on campus are advised to focus instead on other aspects of research such as reading, writing and data analysis. | Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

With Harris County’s “Stay Home, Work Safe” order in place, many undergraduate researchers have had their plans thrown off course, while some laboratory faculty shift their work toward conquering COVID-19.

The Division of Research announced that until the order is lifted, no routine lab work is to be done. Lab members who are not approved to continue essential research on campus are advised to focus instead on other aspects of research such as reading, writing and data analysis.

Psychology sophomore Mallory Walters is a research assistant in psychology professor Paul Cirino’s developmental neuropsychology lab. Before the coronavirus pandemic, her project involved working directly with school-aged children to study how their visual attention and reading relate to each other.

“Because of COVID-19, it is difficult to receive interlibrary loans for articles we need, because we can only have access to articles that are digital,” Walters said. “If articles are in print, we cannot access them.”

Cirino’s lab members have been able to complete most of their project from home, but Walters said it’s difficult when someone has a question and is not able to get a response in a face-to-face meeting.

Biomedical sciences junior Mallika Tripathy has found ways to continue her progress on a project in Dr. Chandra Mohan’s biomedical engineering lab.

Before the stay-at-home order, Tripathy as an undergraduate researcher was testing different ways of targeting cancer cells without chemotherapy’s negative side effects.

“I was going to finish up a western blot analysis to wrap up my project and publish my paper before summer break,” Tripathy said. “I was also supposed to present at Undergraduate Research Day on April 2 (and) start up a new project after completion of the project I am working on currently. That will be pushed back now.”

Despite the setback and lack of final results, Tripathy has made progress on her scientific paper. The people in Mohan’s lab meets weekly via Zoom, and she will be presenting her work to the other lab members next week. When she can return to the lab, she hopes to finish her western blot and begin growing cells for her next project.

While research has slowed for many staff and students, Frank McKeon in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry has been picking up the pace on his molecular lung disease research.

McKeon’s work is considered essential because he is studying what makes some people more likely to get COVID-19 than others. He and some of his staff and graduate students have been in the lab every day, though his undergraduates are working remotely.

The lab members who are not directly working with biological samples that can lead to COVID-19 discoveries have been working on bioinformatics from home, McKeon said. They are focused on organizing data, communicating with members in the lab and writing out reports.

McKeon and Walters both look forward to interacting with their full research teams in the lab again once the pandemic threat decreases.

“Laboratories are highly interactive places,” McKeon said. “You want people there talking and interchanging ideas.”

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