What has the COVID pandemic taught us about science?

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us to new limits on our acceptance of science and nature. I believe (and I hope) that we will look back on this pandemic as a major turning point in modern medicine. As we emerge from the dust of political scandals and public health incompetence we will find that this failure to respect the vastness of science and the undiscovered frontiers of medicine will only propel us into a new age of medicine.

A brilliant article published in the Wall Street Journal on October 9th discussed the lessons we have learned so far from the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair warning, you need to register an account to read the article but it is worth it! The truth being, we always learn from mistakes and we are always learning from science. We have to remember that as scientists it is our job to grow from our failures and to discover not only what is right, but also what is wrong. Failures are not a negative consequence of our work, they are simply unscheduled learning experiences.


PISA 2020 is going virtual and registration/abstract submission is now open until October 21! Submit your abstract today! Find information at the PISA 2020 website! https://pisa20.asip.org/

Interested in becoming a member of ASIP? Contact me at sougiann@musc.edu  www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-sougiannis

Bench-to-Bedside: How Basic and Clinical Scientists can work to improve drug safety and efficacy

Here is your daily, non-COVID, non-US election, non-massive world ending disaster post for the day. It’s nice to get something like this these days.

If you look at the common pathway of drug development, you will notice something like this: Pre-clinical -> Phase I -> Phase II -> Phase II -> Phase IV. Without going into too many details the phases are described as so: Pre-clinical is experimental development with testing in laboratory animals. Phase I is a small batch of human volunteers (typically healthy or within a small target population). Phase II is a larger batch to improve therapeutic safety and determine dosing ranges. Phase III is larger target populations to further determine safety and efficacy. Phase IV involves post-market surveillance after the drug is approved from success in Phase III.

Interestingly, this “classical” paradigm of drug development leaves out the ever important need to bring a drug to Phase 0 trials. Phase 0 occurs between the pre-clinical phase and the initiation of Phase I clinical trials. Phase 0 clinical trials can occur at a single institution and typically recruit 10-15 volunteers to receive micro-doses of the new drug in order to confirm the drug’s safety, bioavailability, and half-life. Interestingly enough, this Phase 0 portion of the drug development timeline is typically skipped for direct entrance into Phase I trials. Why is this? I believe the basic science field can aid in this transition by being actively involved in Phase 0 clinical trials prior to sending a drug off to Phase I.

Bringing basic scientists into the clinic might sound like a dangerous mix between egos, but in-fact might help to improve the synergy between the clinical and experimental worlds. Merck, Novartis, and Pfizer are three companies that adapted the the Phase 0 trial into their regular practice since its first designation in 2006. It is here that we can see basic scientists benefiting the bench-to-bedside effort and enter the clinic and ensure the proper translation of a drug from the experimental to clinical.


Stay tuned for information about another ASIP Trainee Virtual Hangout! Be on the lookout for more information later this month!


PISA 2020 is going virtual and registration/abstract submission is now open! Find information at the PISA 2020 website! https://pisa20.asip.org/

Interested in becoming a member of ASIP? Contact me at sougiann@musc.edu  www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-sougiannis

Virtual Conferences: How will conferencing change after COVID?

Many of us were getting ready for spring conference season when COVID hit. Now, however, we need to look to the future of conferencing and consider what will change when it comes to conferencing post COVID.

Will anything Change?

My answer to this… absolutely not. I think people will be so anxious to get outside they will sprint to the nearest opportunity to leave the lab. Conferencing is the most essential opportunity for trainees to showcase their research and meet with potential advisers. The scientific community will continue to conference regularly after COVID and I do not think much will change in the end. However, we have to consider that our travel internationally might be hindered for the next 2-5 years. So how do we respond to this?

Virtual Reality Conferences?

With virtual reality starting to take flight we have to entertain the option of hosting virtual conferences. Imagine waking up from home, eating your Wheaties, and then putting on your VR glasses to transport yourself to EB2022? Its not very different from what we are currently doing in this period of virtual meetings. Sitting in on a talk would be easy, but what about poster sessions? It is hard to hop posters via zoom, but a virtual conference hall could solve this problem. All of this technology exists and we have the ability to generate this kind of platform.

A recent article in Nature discussed how conference platforms have been adapting since COVID. This article does an excellent job discussing how the lack of intimacy that comes with this kind of platform can remove the purpose of conferences. I agree. Physical face-to-face contact goes so much further than anything technology can offer. A VR conference would completely remove that intimate interaction and make interactions awkward. Can you imagine walking up to an animated version of me and listen to me talk about colorectal cancer in mice…?

VR conferences are a great way to keep us rolling as a scientific community as we crawl out of this crisis. However, we cannot ignore the most essential feature that makes us human, and that is the ability to intimately interact with one another. Lets do what we can for now but not compromise our values when it comes to returning back to normal. We cannot get too comfortable conferencing from home that we forget why we do this in the beginning.

Have you attended any virtual conferences since COVID? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Interested in contributing original content to the ASIP blog? Contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu to get involved!


The ASIP is hosting another free virtual hangout for trainee and junior members June 11th at 4P.M. EST. The goal of this virtual hangout is to bring scientists together to share their stories about life during COVID and the obstacles they have had to overcome. We are hosting another because our first session was a great success. If you are interested please register by clicking the link below: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0lcumpqjosGt0flIahGyElyHNgi3Ucmcmt


PISA 2020 is still being planned! Join your fellow ASIP members at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Boston November 7-9, 2020. Get news and updates at https://pisa20.asip.org/

Interested in becoming a member of ASIP? Contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu  www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-sougiannis

Scientist – The most valuable skillset in the COVID-19 pandemic

A Difficult Time For Scientists

By now the majority of academic STEM researchers have shut down their labs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a 5th year PhD student, this was definitely not the challenge I was expecting to be my last hurdle in earning my PhD. I have seen many stories that have shown the difficult reality that is being a researcher outside of infectious diseases these days. Young PhD students talking about how entire animal colonies had to be euthanized or months-long experiments being cut short and almost completely losing outcome measurements.

In response to this, I have seen an amazing effort by scientists trying to make the most of their dire situation. An article published in the New York Times highlighted several stories from around the world about how scientists are adapting to these tough times. The most notable (and relatable) story was about a 4th year PhD student at Vanderbilt University who had to “relocate” a dedicated analysis computer to her apartment to continue her stringent tissue analysis.

What can we do to help?

It certainly is a difficult time for scientists, but in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic we are the most valuable worker available to the world. A recent article by Forbes listed 10 ways that scientists can help during this crisis. I will let you read the article in its entirety between episodes of Tiger King, but I wanted to highlight a few points that I hope catch your attention.

#5 Volunteer your skills. This to me is the most important one of them all. The Forbes article highlights initiatives such as Crowdfight COVID-19 and the COVID-19 Pandemic Shareable Scientist Response Database. However, I think we can be doing more as scientists. For someone like me, in the prime of my pipetting career, we can go to our local DHEC office and volunteer as scientists to help transcribe data and run COVID-19 diagnostic tests. In fact, our current postdoc and I are currently in the process of setting up volunteer time to help run tests at the local DHEC office here in Columbia, SC. If you have the time and the skillset, please consider volunteering. Testing is the way we get more people into quarantine and get people to treatment faster. #VolunteerCOVID19Scientist

#10 Share your science virtually. I love this idea. With every school in the country shut down, virtual education has been called into action to maintain a standard of education during this lockdown. I have recently signed up for the platform Skype A Scientist. This program pairs me with virtual classrooms from around the world where I can share my research with young students.

Above all it is important to stay safe. Let’s set an example for the rest of the world and work together to make it through this crisis.

Have a story about how you are continuing your research during the lockdown? Or are you doing something to help as a scientist during this crisis? Please share below!

Interested in becoming a member of ASIP? Contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu  www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-sougiannis

Data Management of the Future: Electronic Lab Notebooks.

Are you prepping your virtual classrooms this week? What about lab meetings? Virtual meetings such as Zoom allow for communicating across the globe, but what about data sharing? In the era of big data generation and management it is getting harder to simply share an Excel file with a simple data set. Large high quality TIFF images, large data sets, complicated analyses, all contribute to potentially poor data management for labs and make it difficult to share data files by conventional methods. Enter Electronic Lab Notebooks or ELNs.

Electronic Notebooks have been around for a few years but have recently enetered the spotlight as preferred alternatives to paper experimental recordings. I remember during my master’s in 2013-2015 I used a paper notebook, it was manageable with only a few projects going on at that point. But in the big leagues of PhD life, electronic notebooks have saved my life. I use the electronic notebook SciNote. I chose this notebook because it was easy to use and was the only notebook I found that had Microsoft Office integrated into its interface. After 4 years I must stay that using an electronic notebook has greatly improved my organization of the multiple collaborations I am on and has allowed me to easily share, store, and access all my #hotdata from anywhere in the world.

I must say that I have pushed the use of electronic notebooks on many labs since starting with my own. For small labs of 3-5 researchers to large labs of 20/30+ it really can make your life so much easier. Uploading of raw data makes sure that nothing can be lost in the event of electronic disaster. I take this a little further and backup my data to an external hard drive, my electronic notebook, and my personal laptop……I like data.

In reality there are many electronic notebooks out there. Recently, the LabsExplorer published an article discussing the benefits of electronic notebooks and reviewed the top electronic notebooks on the market. I will say that there are a plethora of electronic notebooks out there but if you understand what your priorities are then it can be easy to select what is best for you. Many electronic notebooks also function as a lab management tool and can be used to sort inventory and keep track of purchases.

The electronic notebook era has received a lot of press and has even been featured in a 2018 Nature article. If you are thinking to start using electronic lab notebooks I highly recommend it. It is not an easy transition but once you make that committment it will make your life so much easier. I have a tablet that I use in the lab and everything is at the touch of my finger and there is no doubt that my data is always organized and safely stored. If you’re not sure about which notebook to use, give them a trial. Most notebooks are free for small groups (3 users) and therefore you can trial using these notebooks before purchasing one for your lab.

Do you already use an electronic notebook in your lab? Please share which one you use and what you like the most about it!


If you have not already heard the news, Experimental Biology 2020 has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. If you need more information or want to discuss further options about your science presentations please feel free to contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu. For official statements from the ASIP please visit https://www.asip.org/.


PISA 2020 is still happening! Join your fellow ASIP members at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Boston November 7-9, 2020. https://pisa20.asip.org/

Interested in becoming a member of ASIP? Contact me at alexander.sougiannis@uscmed.sc.edu  www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-sougiannis