Laboratory Research: Ongoing Research Update

March 20, 2020

Ongoing Maintenance

A ‘skeleton crew’ of key personnel is allowed to enter laboratory buildings to monitor equipment and carry out essential maintenance, including, for example, the filling of liquid nitrogen containers and checks on freezers and complex machinery. This minimal maintenance will require only occasional visits at odd hours, greatly reducing the likelihood of social interactions. The majority of our research laboratories are now being maintained by occasional visits from one or two key personnel, and all experiments in these labs have stopped. Staff and trainees from these research groups are working from home. 

Much of the research at UCSF depends on animal models, and this research is not so easily shut down. It is critical for our research programs, and for animal welfare, that our animal care facilities remain staffed to care for the thousands of unique animal strains used in our research laboratories. Many of our laboratories work with large numbers of complex transgenic animals, some of which require special care by laboratory members. Laboratories with these needs are allowed to delegate additional key personnel to care for their animal lines.  

For the time being, a minimal amount of laboratory research will be allowed to continue. A committee of nine senior basic science faculty scanned requests to continue research, and approved experiments fall into two categories, listed below. In all cases, laboratory heads are required to make every effort to reduce social interactions.

Faculty have been strictly cautioned to excuse anyone who does not feel comfortable coming into the laboratory. Students should be assured that if they feel any pressure to carry out experiments, they are welcome to voice their concerns with graduate program directors, thesis committees, or the supportive staff of the Graduate Division.  

1. COVID-19 research: Many labs at UCSF have rapidly mobilized efforts to understand and fight the COVID-19 disease. Almost overnight, dozens of our talented faculty have initiated a broad array of studies, including the structural biology of viral proteins, development of novel anti-viral drugs, studies of the infection process in cultured lung cells, and clinical studies of patients with the disease. Our policy is to approve any research that has clear potential to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on human health. 

2. Completion of ongoing long-term projects: Many scientists at UCSF study long-term processes in health and disease, and their experiments can sometimes continue over many months and even years. Many of these experiments cannot be stopped in mid-flight without destroying the entire experiment, resulting in major losses of data and effort. We are allowing these sorts of experiments to continue, on the condition that they are maintained by the fewest possible personnel with minimal interactions.

Some of our senior PhD and MD PhD students have concrete plans to graduate in the next quarter and have positions or medical school lined up after graduation. Some of these students are within weeks of completing all experiments, and in these cases we allow students to do the minimum work required to finish up. The number of other people in the lab is kept to a minimum, and work hours are being used to reduce interactions with others. 

Some common types of approved research include the following:

  • studies of tumor growth or other pathologies in mouse models injected with a potential treatment over a period of many months.
  • studies of the effects of aging on behavior or physiology, in animals that have been aged for one or two years prior to the experiment.
  • long-term studies of the effects of specific diets in mouse models that must be analyzed at specific time points over the course of many months.
  • studies in a differentiated primary cell line that has required many months to generate from a unique patient or other source, and cannot be frozen down without loss of viability.
  • final experiments by a postdoctoral fellow whose position ends in one month, after which she is starting a new position at a biotechnology company.
  • final experiments by a student who is scheduled to graduate at the end of May, and has just 2-3 weeks of experiments to complete the work for his thesis.

Research that is not allowed includes the following:

  • 2-3 weeks of biochemical experiments by a 3rd-year student to finish results for a possible paper submission. These experiments should be paused.
  • several weeks of experiments to complete revisions of a paper to allow resubmission to a journal before some deadline. Journal deadlines are unlikely to be enforced in the current crisis.
  • experiments to generate preliminary data for a grant submission in 2 months. Faculty should expect to submit grant applications with the results that are currently in hand. 
  • breeding of new mouse lines to begin new experiments.
  • any new experiments whatsoever.