Researchers continue working from home

Researchers at the Danish Cancer Society carry on working during the corona crisis, although it is at a reduced level. The vast majority of researchers work from home, while some will have to look after the laboratories to ensure that valuable cell samples are not lost


Research leader Giuseppe Filomeni takes part in keeping the most crucial laboratory work going. - We have some unique cell models that must be kept alive, says he. Photo: Marica Pedersen

Like hundreds of other workplaces in Denmark, the premises of the Danish Cancer Society Research Center are deserted. The researchers must work from home, thus helping to curb the spread of corona virus in Denmark. 

- We have some amazingly flexible staff members who all do their best to take care of their work from home. Maybe they can't perform the experiment they had planned, but then they can do something else, such as read up on new research, which can give new ideas, and collaborate on projects using digital tools, says Mef Christina Nilbert, who is head of research in the Danish Cancer Society. 

- The biggest challenges are in the laboratories, where we grow live cancer cells that must be looked after. Here, we keep going on the most critical experiments where months of work would be lost, if we just shut them down. The laboratory scientists work on shifts, keep their distance, and work with caution so that the experiments can continue while preventing the spread of corona virus, says Mef Christina Nilbert.


- The researchers do their best working from home. Maybe they cannot perform the planned experiment, but then there are other tasks to take on, says Mef Nilbert. Photo: Tomas Bertelsen

Everyone collaborates on the same project

Then it is easier to work at home for the ten researchers in ‘the Computational Biology group'. They do most of their work by analyzing large amounts of data with computers. 

- We have one colleague who usually makes experiments in the laboratory, but we have stopped that, says the group's leader Elena Papaleo. 

- At the same time, we have chosen to all work on the same project while sitting at home. When we sit down individually, this helps to create a sense of community, and it's a project that can keep us all engaged for the next three weeks, she continues.

Unique cancer cells

One of those working in the lab is Giuseppe Filomeni. He is the leader of the research group 'Redox Signaling and Oxidative Stress' in the Danish Cancer Research Center. 

Giuseppe Filomeni works with 'cellular models' of cancer. These are live cancer cells that are specially cultivated so that they can grow in plastic bottles in the laboratory, and at the same time have the same characteristics as cancer cells growing in patients. The researchers use cellular models to investigate the cancer cells’ weaknesses and to test the efficacy of new forms of treatment. 

- We have some cellular models, which take a long time to cultivate, and some of them are unique. We have to take care of them and keep them alive, otherwise they will die and some of them will be impossible to recreate, says Giuseppe Filomeni. 

He says the researchers make sure to keep a distance from each other. There can be only two to three scientists in one laboratory at a time, and one scientist in the cell culture laboratory itself. 

- We try to handle the situation, but it's not easy, says Giuseppe Filomeni.


The researchers in the Computational Biology group meet up every day in cyberspace to drink coffee together. They try to create an ordinary day, even though the members are working separately at home. Photo from the group's Instagram profile

Many researchers come from abroad

The researchers at the Danish Cancer Research Center come from 26 different countries, making it extra vulnerable to sit at home and work, says Mef Christina Nilbert. 

- Many come from Italy and Spain, which are severely affected by the Corona pandemic. It is difficult when you are far away and worried about the family, and you cannot go home either, says the head of research. 

Elena Papaleo agrees. She comes from Northern Italy, and is in contact with her parents every day and she worries about how they are doing. 

Nine of the researchers in Elena Papaleo's group are foreigners, and some of them are alone in Denmark. That's why they make a great effort to nourish their community, even if it is through video conferencing on the computer, with regular meetings, coffee breaks and chat. 

- We have close contact, both in order to work together, but also so that no one feels too isolated, Elena Papaleo says.