HOW WILL LABORATORY RESEARCHERS REMEMBER 2020? “We’ll remember that we answered the call,” says Harry Orf, Senior Vice President for Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The work that was done on COVID innovation, the cooperation across our entire research community…That will be the most memorable aspect of this difficult time.”

Medical researchers across the country faced extraordinary challenges as the pandemic unfolded. Facilities were closed, face-to-face collaboration became impossible and cell lines and lab animals, critical to ongoing investigations, were painfully out of reach. Many researchers also faced competing priorities, as work on the new COVID-19 virus eclipsed everything else in both the lab and the clinic.

That said, the year saw a number of breakthrough discoveries in non-COVID areas. “There was a lot going on,” says Orf. “The work with CRISPR and gene editing to treat disease…a ton of new discoveries in imaging to help us ‘see’ disease in real time, and a lot of progress in the microbiome and its role in disease.” At MGH, teams pushed forward landmark work in CAR-T cell therapy, ALS and HIV.

Orf, who oversees the largest hospital-based research program in the country, discusses how pandemic-era research moved forward and the changes it brought—some for the better.

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