Shan Sisi: the Tsinghua student who helped fight COVID-19

Shan Sisi, a graduate student at Tsinghua’s School of Medicine, has just been named Tsinghua Student of the Year 2020.

In the early 2020, as the outbreak spread rapidly, Shan Sisi felt it was her duty to study the novel coronavirus, and possibly contribute to developing a vaccine. “As a medical researcher, I felt obliged to help in any possible way,” she said.    

Then she signed up to join Prof. Zhang Linqi’s team – which had previously made several breakthroughs on infectious diseases such as AIDS and Ebola, and was now studying COVID-19 for a possible vaccine.

Since mid-January, Shan Sisi has worked tirelessly in the School of Medicine’s laboratory as a member of Prof. Zhang’s team, carrying out rigorous experiments.

The team earlier successfully isolated several antibodies that could help find potential COVID-19 treatments, and has already developed a vaccine, which is now awaiting final clinical trials.  

Working under immense pressure, she could not help but feel stressed and lonely at times. But the constant encouragement and support from Prof. Zhang and other teachers, along with her family and friends, kept her going.

Shan Sisi said she was initially apprehensive that she might disappoint her parents by her decision to return to campus right ahead of the Spring Festival, the biggest Chinese festival characterized by family celebrations. But to her surprise, her parents in fact encouraged her to go, saying she should try her best to help the nation in the fight against COVID-19.

Her peers who were contributing remotely to the research of Sisi’s team on campus also served as a source of inspiration for her to put in hard work.

Through trials and tribulations, Shan Sisi and her team have achieved commendable outcomes. “Our antibodies have passed phase one of clinical trials and are about to enter phase two. Our vaccine is already manufactured and is awaiting its clinical trial,”  she said.

She attributes much of her team’s success to Tsinghua University’s relentless support. “Back in January, when students weren’t allowed to return to campus, Tsinghua gave special approval to allow four members of my team to join me at the laboratory. Without them, our progress would have been dampened,” said Shan Sisi.

Her team’s promising achievements have drawn widespread public attention. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited her team’s laboratory in March to take the stock of the team’s progress at developing a vaccine for COVID-19, putting the team further in the limelight.  

“Never in my wildest dreams had I thought I’d one day meet the President. ” Shan Sisi said. “Now I feel a greater need to deliver concrete results to the public. ”

Despite all the public attention she and her team have received, Shan Sisi thinks she must “remain humble and let the results speak for themselves.”

Writer:Mike Qian

Editors:Sangeet Sangroula, Liu Shutian, John Olbrich

Copyright 2001-2021 news.tsinghua.edu.cn. All rights reserved.