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An all-inclusive illness

When the first reports emerged of a new disease in China at the turn of the year, it was described as a “pneumonia of unknown cause.” A few months later, with 25 million cases and 900,000 deaths worldwide, COVID-19 is known to be a more complex and widespread disease than previously thought. Immunologist Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that in his 40-year career, he has never seen a pathogen with such a wide range of clinical manifestations.

Data obtained from SARS-CoV-2 cases show that the virus can cause extensive damage to the lungs, but it can also affect other organs, such as the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and kidneys. The disease progresses slowly and often has unexpected consequences: there is a growing number of reports of patients who continue to suffer debilitating symptoms for long periods. This issue’s cover story gives an insight into what we know about the effects the virus has on the human body after the acute phase of the disease.

With an effective antiviral yet to be found, healthcare workers are striving to reduce inflammation caused by the novel coronavirus, as well as to prevent and combat the formation of blood clots, as described on page 24. This issue also features articles on herd immunity, the funding of research by civil society, and the gap between scientific output and dental care provided by the Brazilian public health system (SUS), as evidenced by the pandemic. Testimonies from researchers about their activities during the quarantine are interspersed throughout, available in full on the website.

New applications have been found for biological models created in the laboratory of UFRJ neuroscientist Stevens Rehen, used to study how infections caused by viruses affect brain development. Many researchers at the institution are contributing to the international effort to combat SARS-CoV-2. The country’s largest federal university officially turns 100 years old on September 7, 2020, and has reason to celebrate. With more than 50,000 undergraduate students and almost 12,000 graduate students, it has established itself as a respected higher education and research institution, with growing and consistent scientific output. Initially named the University of Rio de Janeiro, it was the first to be founded by the federal government.

The article on page 54 describes how despite the fact that Brazil founded its universities later than many of its neighbors, it managed to establish itself as a major hub for education and research within just a century. A special series of articles on UFRJ is completed with a brief history and overview of the institution, a presentation of its renowned biosciences department, and a look at Coppe—The Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute for Graduate Studies and Research in Engineering—known for its collaborations with industry, as well as two interviews. Looking ahead, physicist Luiz Davidovich, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, argues for more comprehensive education and a less compartmentalized approach at the university. Anthropologist Yvonne Maggie has spent her entire career at the institution: she graduated there, began teaching there in 1969, headed its Institute of Philosophy and Social Sciences, and has been professor emeritus since 2017. A specialist in Afro-Brazilian religions, she sees anthropology as a way of putting herself in other people’s shoes and trying to understand what they think and feel.