14. COVID-19: Part Two Can We Imagine The Future Together?

Dear Parents,

Are you worried we have entered Black April, as some experts have suggested? Economic downturn, increased unemployment, companies closing or changing focus, etc? Can we just cancel April? Instead, how about if we follow the advice of Winston Churchill, who said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”


This letter will be about COVID-19: Part Two Can We Imagine The Future Together?


There are some exciting new job opportunities on the horizon. I will share a few with you today.


Biotech Revolution, gene editors, and Materials Science

COVID-19 will be the catalyst for the Biotech Revolution. There will be a shift in thinking from lifespan to healthspan. Our lifespan will increase due to innovations in medicine, but more importantly, our healthspan will become the new measure. How healthy are we across the lifespan? The new goal will be to maximize our health across the lifespan, and we will talk in terms of healthspan capacity. New biotechnology will help us live better, healthier lives. Biotech graduates will be employed as gene editors, capable of manipulating your genetic code so that you are immune from COVID-19, plus a whole host of other diseases. Along with the usual medical checkups, you will now routinely visit your gene editor for regular updates to your genetic code. The genetic code you are born with will be updated across your lifetime, to give you the best possible healthspan outcomes. 


Are you washing your hands or using hand sanitizer as recommended by our local authorities? Technically speaking, the soap and hand sanitizer are not just washing the virus off your hands; actually, there are active ingredients in the soap and hand sanitizer that bind with the virus in such a way that it forces the outer protective coating of the virus to fall apart, thus inactivating it permanently. Maybe we should run out and invest in soap companies and become rich! Instead, another way to think about how to inactivate viruses is emerging from the field of Materials Science. Think about your daily routine. How many items do you touch? Door knobs, desks, steering wheels, computers, kitchen tables, sinks/faucets, windows, the list is endless. Each of these items has a surface, and the surface can be coated with a thin film. You can imagine that in the very near future, Materials Science graduates will develop thin-film technology targeting virus destruction. Imagine every surface you touch is now coated with a thin film of invisible material fortified with a chemical agent capable of dissolving viruses? This is not science fiction, it is being developed today, and our AUN graduates can be on the forefront of these Materials Science technologies.


Telemedicine and disease detectives

Imagine one year from now, in Ikoyi (Lagos), several people wake up one morning, feeling ill, and all of them log onto their computers and google the same symptoms, looking for information. In this age of the internet, every search leaves traces, and companies are using our google searches to customize advertisements for products we might find interesting. However, in this new Era of Pandemics, this simple act of a cluster of people in the same location all self-reporting to have the same symptoms can then trigger the public health authorities about a possible localized outbreak, and alerts sent to medical providers nearby. Telemedicine, and Telehealth, are going to be a reality, with big data, online doctors, and just-in-time pharmaceutical delivery becoming part of our everyday lives. 


COVID-19 and Telemedicine will also open the door to new and interesting employment opportunities. Statistical and Mathematical graduates will be employed to manage dynamic datasets and create predictive models that can inform public health policies. A substantial portion of medical school training will be online training, so physicians, and soon medical robots, become skilled at online diagnosis, through smartphones, smartwatches, and specialized APPs. Additionally, pharmaceutical providers will become more modular, such that medicines can be individually tailored and capsulized on the spot, and our Chemistry graduates will lead the way to this future. To entertain and educate us, disease detectives will become the new prime-time television stars, as the public tunes in each evening to see what new virus they have discovered. I am sure you can imagine Nollywood actor RMD (Richard Mofe-Damijo) starring in his own television series as Nigeria’s heroic virus hunter.  


So what should we invest in? Our AUN students. They will be the ones to create this future. Listen to them. Support them. Love them. They have all of the skills and competencies to do this – they just need our encouragement. Go Stallions!


Always, with best regards, stay safe, Semper Gumby


Dawn Dekle, PhD

AUN President (Vice-Chancellor)


Teaser: stay tuned for the next letter from the desk of the AUN President, on the topic “COVID-19: Before You Get the Virus”