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President’s Column – April 2020

Last month, in this letter, I wrote about unexpected events and uncertainty. We were at the beginning of the COVID event in the United States and I intended the letter to convey a note of optimism, both about the world events that were just then heating up rapidly, and about our own scientific investigations, whether in business or research. Unfortunately, over the last 30 days it seems that one of my main points—that we often fall short when it comes to assessing the full range of possible outcomes—has been amply illustrated. A crash in the stock market? Sure. A dangerous new virus that makes a few extra people wear a mask on an airplane? Plausible. But a wide-scale shutdown of large sectors of economies around the world, shelter-in-place commandments, hospital ships, 20 dollar oil, Bourbon Street empty? Who had that in their distribution?

The current reality has me alternating between periods of optimism and despondency. The scope and speed of industrial, clinical, and pharmaceutical efforts to address testing, tracking, treatment, and prevention of COVID-19 is astonishing and will result, I believe, in our ability to either entirely defeat or live with the virus, as we have learned to live with other dangerous viruses in the past. On the other hand, the continued increase in the number of cases, the isolation from friends and family and co-workers, the pressure on hospital staff in certain places, and the hardship that will visit millions of people laid off from their jobs—those things keep me up at night.

After the cancellation of last month’s luncheon meeting, I was hopeful that we would be meeting again in April. As you may already appreciate, that does not seem very likely. We will post the abstract and speaker bio for the April talk so that you may follow up with the speaker if the topic is of particular interest to you. The field trip scheduled closer to the end of the month, April 25th, would seem to have a better chance of surviving. We will let you know about that.

Despite these uncertain times we do need to be thinking about the future of the society. We will need new officers for next year—president-elect, secretary, treasurer, etc. If you are interested in helping out please let me or one of the other board members know.

In the 1600’s the Spanish discovered that indigenous tribes in Peru used the bark of the cinchona tree to ward off various “fevers”. It was soon determined that quinine powder, the active ingredient derived from the bark, was an effective drug for both the prevention and treatment of malaria. By the 1840s, the protective doses of quinine powder used by British citizens and soldiers in places like India required 700 tons of cinchona bark annually. Though there is no doubt that quinine powder helped to keep the colonists healthy in places where malaria was prevalent, the powder was so bitter that people began to search for more palatable ways to ingest it. It was mixed with soda water and sugar, and tonic water was born. The gin and tonic was not far behind.

Since hydroxychloroquine, an advanced synthetic form of quinine, is currently showing some promise for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19, I have been mixing a cool, crisp gin and tonic at the end of each day. It may not be a cure-all, but I find it tilts me toward optimism.

Best regards,

Trevor Casper

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