Nov. 9, 2020

Federal government announces funding for COVID-19 research projects

Exceptional Opportunities Fund invests in research infrastructure for 3 UCalgary projects
University of Calgary Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) lab.
University of Calgary Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) lab.

Three University of Calgary research projects aimed at improving detection, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 have received federal funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Exceptional Opportunities Fund.

On Nov. 6, Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and industry, announced the research infrastructure support for Canadian researchers. “Canadian researchers and scientists are helping to protect our health and safety and are key to finding our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "With this funding through the Exceptional Opportunities Fund, the Government of Canada is ensuring these talented Canadians have the equipment and tools to support them in their very important work.”

The funded UCalgary projects represent exceptional research opportunities that would be missed if they had to wait to undergo the normal course of a national funding competition before a decision could be made.

“UCalgary researchers have done truly impressive work to pivot and focus on urgent problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research). “The projects supported by CFI will advance our understanding of the disease, and lead to transformative research that will improve the lives of Canadians.”

Wastewater surveillance of SARS-COV2 to enable real-time clinical case-finding in Calgary
Dr. Casey Hubert, PhD, Faculty of Science
Dr. Michael Parkins, MD, Cumming School of Medicine
A multi-disciplinary research team has developed a strategy for tracking COVID-19 in Calgary's wastewater. SARS-CoV-2 genetic material is excreted in the feces of infected individuals, often even before symptoms start. By regularly testing wastewater samples drawn from different areas of the city, researchers will be able to identify when an area has increasing levels of COVID-19 cases. With assistance from The City of Calgary, the team of researchers from the Cumming School of Medicine, Faculty of Science, and Schulich School of Engineering will deploy wastewater autosamplers in the municipal sewer network at locations chosen in collaboration with Alberta Health Services (AHS). Following processing at UCalgary’s Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA) facility, samples will be screened for RNA from SARS-CoV-2 and results will be shared with AHS to target active case-finding.

Read more about UCalgary testing for COVID-19 in wastewater

Imaging animal lungs and human lung organoids in Level 3 facility
Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD, Cumming School of Medicine

In UCalgary’s newly re-opened Biosafety Level 3 Facility, a team led by Kubes will use state-of-the-art imaging to study sepsis caused by SARS-CoV-2. They will look inside blood vessels of the lungs to determine what happens to immune cells, platelets and coagulation during COVID-19 infections. This insight into the effects that COVID-19 has on the lungs will enable the clinical community to create novel therapies that target these effects, and treat the sickest COVID-19 patients more effectively.

Read more about UCalgary's Biosafety Level 3 facility

Quantification of SARS-CoV-2 viral load in clinical and environmental samples
Dr. Dylan Pillai, MD, PhD, Cumming School of Medicine

Researchers know that COVID-19 infection results from person-to-person transmission of the virus, but questions remain about viral load, and when people are most infectious. Those with a low-level case of COVID-19 may shed infectious virus for less time than those with a severe case, but identifying low-level infection remains a challenge. Current tests lack the sensitivity to detect low-level cases of COVID-19 consistently. To answer these questions, a research team led by Pillai will evaluate different patient and environmental samples using a technology called 'digital droplet PCR' to determine how the viral load influences clinical outcomes and transmission rates, and how effectively clinical tests are identifying asymptomatic and low-level cases of COVID-19.

Read more about UCalgary's COVID-19 testing advancements

Dr. Casey Hubert, PhD, is an Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, in the Faculty of Science and Campus Alberta Innovates Program (CAIP) Chair in Geomicrobiology.

Paul Kubes is the lead for the Infections, Inflammation and Chronic Diseases in the Changing Environment (IICD) research strategy at the University of Calgary. He is a professor in Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and a member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the CSM.

Michael Parkins is an associate professor in the departments of Medicine, and Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Cumming School of Medicine. He is a member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases.
Dylan Pillai is a professor in the departments of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medicine, and Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases and member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the CSM.

Infections, Inflammation and Chronic Diseases

The University of Calgary is uniquely positioned to find solutions to key global challenges. Through the research strategy for Infections, Inflammation, and Chronic Diseases in the Changing Environment, top scientists lead multidisciplinary teams to understand and prevent the complex factors that threaten our health and economies.