Today it seems that the “COVID-19 Storm” peak is approaching, according to the head of the country’s national health institute. This news made our regional community (Lombardia) feel better and new hopes are growing in my sad locked-down city.
Ok, but this is already the end of my story; to explain my thoughts better I should start at the beginning. Although we thought that COVID-19 was something that would never devastate or touch our lives, from February 25th we began to understand that we had been wrong.
Both our private and working life, as researchers, initially went through a great confusion due to the fear of getting sick and spreading the virus to our loved ones, in particular to the elderly population. I have a 7 month old baby and the news that COVID-19 was not causing serious illness in infants comforted me regarding the risk of going to work and coming back home. Of course, from that moment on, my family and I have avoided meeting our loved elders to avoid infecting them. During those days SARS-COV-2 continued to spread around Milan and after a few days the complete lock-down of Italy was implemented by our government. I felt safer thanks to this decision, considered from my point of view as a more rational and “scientific” approach by politicians. Of course as researcher I had to stop all the scheduled activities. My Institution has only authorized us to conclude ongoing experiments and to run those related to COVID-19. Since I mainly investigate the role of cytokines (with particular attention on the IL-17 field) in respiratory infection by bacteria, I have only been able to conclude long-term experiments. In daily lock-down life, we started our period of isolation. To be honest, I am lucky to have my wonderful family, my wife Laura and my son Federico. I began to hear from friends only on the phone or in video-calls, since leaving the house without an “essential” reason, as well as all the social and aggregation events, such as public markets or meetings in the open parks, were not allowed. But what was most unusual and unforgettable is hearing daily press releases from our country’s national health institute, at 6 pm, on the number of new infections, the dead, and healed individuals. Unfortunately, it looked (and still looks) like a war report. I felt, fortunately only for few moments, like our grandfathers when they experienced anxiety and hope at the same time listening to the famous “Radio London” during the Second World War. They prayed for the end of the war, today we hope that deaths are decreasing.
In this scenario, together with my colleagues of the “Emerging Bacterial Pathogens Unit” at Ospedale San Raffaele, we started organizing a weekly laboratory meeting through video-call conferences. While our lives are upside-down, I want to share one thought that astonishes and honors me to be part of this International Cytokines Society. Little by little, people around me (like relatives who have never studied biology or medicine), the media and television started talking about a “cytokine storm” that may be relevant in exacerbating the severe disease induced by SARS-COV-2. I was really surprised to hear that. For the first time the term “cytokine” is a common word recognized by all the people living in Italy. This was amazing! In addition to my amazement, I have selfishly thought that it will finally be easier to explain my work to all the people I know outside the biological area, once the emergency is over. Moreover public discussions have been raised, for example on television talk shows, between physicians proposing clinical trials targeting the “cytokine storm” (e.g. Tocilizumab) and those affirming that antiviral therapy is more relevant. Anyhow, it is not my intention to enter into this discussion since I am not a clinician, but all this has made me feel me a little more proud to be part of this society and to be involved in basic research on biological mechanisms underlying cytokine-mediated host response to respiratory bacterial infection.
In this regard, I was happy to read the approval of clinical trials targeting cytokine-mediated response during COVID-19 disease. We could also suppose that shared common dogmas and public concerns regarding the use of immunomodulatory drugs during respiratory infections may also decrease after this crisis.
Today, March 31, it seems that the peak of “COVID-19 Storm” is approaching and that the hope of overcoming this emergency may be on the horizon. As a citizen of my country, I want to dedicate this short letter to all the people who died and are dying in this “war”, and to all those who are working for our well-being. I believe that science was, is, and will be essential to fight and win this “battle”. As a researcher, I hope that citizens all over the world do not easily forget the importance of scientific research once the dawn of a new prosperous and safe period arises. Finally, as a researcher of this amazing Cytokine Society, I hope for all of you that your families and your loved ones are safe and healthy.
Nicola Ivan Lorè
Emerging Bacterial Pathogens Unit,
Division of Immunology, Transplantation and Infectious Diseases
IRCCS San Raffaele Scientific Institute, Milan, Italy.