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Jun 5, 2020

Research during COVID-19: Q&A with Dr. Vince Tropepe

The last few months have been challenging for all, including labs at the forefront of sight-saving vision research.

Many research labs where work was shut down or slowed in March to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are starting to open up again, with restrictions in place to ensure that researchers can maintain a safe distance. We reached out to Dr. Vince Tropepe who was recently been awarded an FBC award to learn how the pandemic has impacted his team’s work studying a gene mutation that causes Usher syndrome in zebrafish.

Q&A WITH DR. VINCE TROPEPE

How has COVID-19 impacted your lab at the University of Toronto?

My lab was shut down March 20, 2020. Halting our research is frustrating, especially when we were just ramping up our FBC funded project. However, we have to do our part to control the spread of COVID-19. The best we can do for now is try to keep all of our zebrafish strains alive and well.

Were you able to save zebrafish strains?

Zebrafish sperm can be frozen down, so that is one way to preserve strains long term. However, the technique is very tricky and very few labs can do this successfully. The stock centres in Oregon and Japan, for example, use this method. After this experience, many of my zebrafish colleagues around the country will be looking into implementing this technology, and once the dust settles, I’ll be trying to set this up in my facility as well.

For now, all we can do is keep the fish alive and breed them periodically to produce new generations with a good balance of males and females. We’ve been told to reduce numbers as much as possible, which is very concerning, but we are managing for now.

Are there any silver linings to this really tough situation?

It’s important to maintain a positive outlook. I’ve asked my students to catch up on reading research articles, writing manuscripts and working on data analysis remotely. It really is a good time to think deeply about one’s research. As department Chair, however, right now I’m in seemingly endless academic and business continuity discussions, planning and managing.

How will this situation impact vision research in Canada in the long term?

Many funding agencies have recently prioritized COVID-19 based research projects, and these efforts are commendable for accelerating research toward understanding the biology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and finding innovative solutions for treatment. However, there is a risk that funding resources for critical vision research will take a bit of a back seat, at least for a period of time, and this could impact progress on outstanding vision research across the country.


Researchers like Dr. Tropepe and his team are facing a vast amount of challenges during these difficult COVID-19 times. FBC is working hard to support award winning researchers like Dr. Tropepe and keep vision research moving forward – we could not do this without you.

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