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Letter from the editor | 304

A bleak outlook

On January 15, 1951, Brazilian President Eurico Dutra passed Law 1310, establishing what was at the time called the National Research Council (CNPq). The law’s first article outlined the council’s purpose: “to foster and stimulate the development of scientific and technological research in all fields of knowledge.” Almost six months later, on July 11, CAPES was founded, which at that time stood for the National Campaign for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel, through Decree 29.741. Its objectives: “to ensure the existence of specialized personnel in sufficient quantity and quality to meet the needs of public and private enterprises endeavoring to improve the country’s economic and social development” and “offer access to opportunities for improvement to the most capable individuals, who may not otherwise have the means.”

These institutions, which are now celebrating their 70th years, are central to Brazil’s science and technology system. Their futures, however, are less than certain. Successive funding cuts for these and other agencies are damaging the country’s ability to achieve the aforementioned objectives, and putting at risk a system that has previously yielded positive results.
Causing more than 250,000 deaths in 2021 alone, COVID-19 continues to devastate Brazil, which has now suffered 450,000 deaths since the pandemic began. Vaccination, an important weapon in the country’s arsenal, is yet to reach desired levels—just 8.5% of the population have received two doses to date. Genomic surveillance is another approach still in its infancy: RNA samples have been taken from just 0.59% of the nearly 15 million cases diagnosed since March 2020. Mapping the virus’s genome is essential to tracking its mutations and identifying which strains are circulating in the country, as well as to verifying the effectiveness of vaccines and the accuracy of diagnostic tests.

This issue’s coverage of the pandemic includes an article on the rare inflammatory syndrome affecting a small number of children infected with the novel coronavirus. A Brazilian study helping scientists understand the problem suggests that SARS-CoV-2 directly damages organs such as the heart and intestines, in addition to causing the well-known overreaction of the immune system that actually causes more harm than good. COVID-19 medicines approved for emergency use are the subject of another article, highlighting their limited applicability and high cost.

Innovative medical products already covered in Pesquisa FAPESP are the subject of the article “Start, fall down, get up, start over”. Based on 35 research projects funded by FAPESP, editor Carlos Fioravanti interviewed 16 researchers on the challenges they faced. By reconstructing the paths they took, they were able to identify the difficulties involved in planning a study, establishing a team, and formulating a commercial strategy, while also highlighting the ability to readjust their path or start over. The following article is about a headband developed by a startup to detect epileptic seizures in advance, a likely candidate for a repeat of this informal survey a few years from now.