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Coronavirus News Voices from the Crisis

Voices From the Crisis: Protecting DSU’s research efforts

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Melissa Harrington, associate vice president for research at Delaware State University, has had a whirlwind week, in which the university closed the campus amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus and moved instruction online.

Melissa Harrington

As the university’s leader for academic research, closing the campus required a bit of careful planning as DSU has a few dozen research projects under way. While courses may be able to moved online, someone still has to monitor the plants and animals that are the subject of months or years of work, Harrington said.

“For instance, Dr. Young-Gi Kim, in the biology department, studies Parkinson’s disease,” she noted, explaining that mice in the experiment have been exposed to a protein that essentially induces Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder.

After a waiting period, the mice must be studied and given a dose of trial medicine to combat the effects of Parkinson’s disease. The campus’s closure came right as that observation period was to arrive, however, and any delay would negate the research and endanger the mice.

“So, the department chairs and deans collected lists of [about 50] graduate students and faculty who have ongoing experiments that would be damaged by an unscheduled interruption and organized to allow them on campus in a controlled manner,” Harrington explained.

Those faculty and grad students are continuing to observe guidance from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention on social distancing by taking turns attending to the experiments each day, Harrington said.

Luckily, it appears that the researchers will also get some support from the federal government, which largely funds the university’s projects through grants. While federal agencies typically require funds to be closed out each year, Harrington said at least one, the National Institutes of Health, has indicated that standards will be relaxed this year to allow carryover funding to subsequent years.

“With all that’s happened, we consider ourselves fortunate to be able to complete the important work,” she added.

By Jacob Owens

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