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Opinion: Upsides of a pandemic: New opportunities, technologies

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As a community, a nation and a world, we are still experiencing the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Sporadic new cases of COVID-19 continue in our community, but the effects on the economy and the supply chain disruptions are felt everywhere. Despite the struggles, the pandemic has also brought about new opportunities. 

At Missouri State University, two collaborations were formed during the pandemic to examine novel disinfectants and therapeutic treatments for COVID-19. Dr. Patrick Brooks, assistant professor of biomedical sciences, and I collaborated with Nixa company Pure & Clean LLC to test its cleaning products for use in disinfecting personal protective equipment in hospitals. My research lab also collaborated with New Jersey-based EmphyCorp/Cellular Sciences Inc. to test a novel treatment for COVID-19 patients and those suffering from long COVID-19 symptoms months after their diagnosis. This resulted in further collaborations with Dynamic DNA Laboratories LLC and Trinity Healthcare PC, both in Springfield, to conduct a small clinical trial at MSU. 

These are my examples, but there are numerous others of new technologies or ideas that have their roots in the pandemic. New educational resources and teaching methods were developed that can be used at any time, not just during a pandemic. Working from home can be highly effective in some sectors with new communication modalities. Food and groceries can be picked by personal shoppers or delivered to your door. Although not new, such business strategies had trouble gaining traction before the pandemic.

Overall, I believe there are two lessons that can be learned from the pandemic that relate directly to businesses and organizations in southwest Missouri. First, the next disaster is just around the corner. Second, there are opportunities for collaboration and business ventures even during hard times. 

Being prepared for disruptions in supply chains, workforce and lockdowns are not a thing of the past. Recent outbreaks of monkeypox directly on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate that new diseases with pandemic potential are always on the horizon. Even if a disease might not directly affect humans, it can still impact our business and our lives. For example, the bird flu this year decimated chicken flocks, resulting in higher egg and chicken prices. 

Disruptions also can come from war and natural disasters. Not only should businesses and individuals have plans for such emergencies, but we have untapped resources and knowledge in our communities to help with planning and preparing for pandemics or other disasters. This starts with community education in our institutions of learning, libraries, community organizations and churches. 

It also encompasses using the knowledge and experience of doctors, professors, engineers, community health professionals and disaster management personnel to plan for future disruptions. As a nation, we thought of ourselves as well prepared for a pandemic, but we were proven wrong. I ask that, as a community, we be more open to seeking input from all sources of reputable information and that we be honest with the public to maintain trust. Why not invite a doctor, professor or emergency management personnel to your school, church or organization to provide information or advice on preparing for a disaster?

In addition to preparation and sharing information, there are untapped talents and resources in southwest Missouri that can be developed into amazing business ventures. Although conducting a human clinical trial at MSU was challenging during the pandemic, it was the perfect opportunity to test a novel anti-inflammatory drug or the effectiveness of disinfectants at killing germs. It also shows that we can rise to the challenge and be a global player in pharmaceuticals and health care in southwest Missouri. 

More collaborations between businesses and academia can benefit both sectors. Internships in such ventures provide students with valuable hands-on learning, and businesses benefit from a better trained workforce with some interns directly transitioning to full-time positions in local companies. The higher education centers throughout the region – MSU, Drury, Evangel and Southwest Baptist universities and Ozarks Technical Community College, for example – have incredible talent. As an example, the professional science master’s degree program at MSU requires students to intern with a local business in the fields of chemistry, geology, geography and planning, biology, physics, computer science or mathematics. Why not get a triple play where the student, business and academic institution all benefit?

Opportunities await.

Christopher Lupfer is an associate professor of biology at Missouri State University. He can be reached at christopherlupfer@missouristate.edu.

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