U of C researchers take aim at coronavirus as feds boost research funding

Pictured is University of Calgary entrance arch on Thursday, October 24, 2019. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary Azin Ghaffari / Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary

University of Calgary researchers will launch a $1.6 million, multi-pronged assault on a novel coronavirus that appears to have arrived in Alberta.

Financed by $27 million in new federal funding targeting COVID-19 that’s now showed up in four provinces, the Calgary scientists will seek to bolster rapid diagnosis, better determine the virus’s impact on children and families and improve the province’s response.

They’ll also assist Dalhousie University colleagues in developing educational programs to empower Canadians as the lethal virus spreads throughout the country.

“U of C researchers are bringing evidence-based scholarship to this public health emergency,” said Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Calgary.

“This accelerated funding will enable them to mobilize quickly to support the safety and well-being of Canadians.”

One team will create a tool for bedside testing that can quickly detect viruses outside hospitals or laboratories to halt the spread of disease by quickly quarantining patients.

Another will develop protocols and policies to enhance preparedness in hospitals and doctors’ offices.

A third team will assess the impacts on children who might face isolation and fear in treating COVID-19 and whose families could face financial hardship.

The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. January 29, 2020. By Handout . / via REUTERS

Children with pre-existing conditions are considered one of the populations most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The U of C announcements come as Ottawa unveiled a two-year, $27 million push to fuel 47 research initiatives across the country to combat COVID-19, focusing on medical and psycho-social factors.

Initially, Ottawa had earmarked $7 million for that research but officials say an overwhelming number of requests for research resources led to the dramatic increase in funding.

“Canada’s researchers are some of the best in the world, and this funding will allow them to conduct groundbreaking research on a novel coronavirus,” said the federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

“Protecting the health and well-being of all Canadians is our top priority, and the research conducted thanks to this funding will contribute to mitigating the outbreak of COVID-19.”

At least 51 cases of COVID-19 have been detected in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, though no deaths from the virus have occurred in Canada

On Thursday, the first presumptive case — a Calgary woman in her 50s who contracted the illness aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship in California — has tested positive but is expected to make a full recovery.

That positive result has yet to be confirmed by Canada’s national lab.

The woman returned to Calgary Feb. 21 and self-isolated herself on Feb. 28.

Provincial health officials say they’re tracking down other Albertans who were aboard the cruise ship but don’t believe the likely-infected woman had many contacts between Feb. 21 and 28.

On the heels of screening travelers, health authorities in the province are expected to step up testing for COVID-19 in hospitals and clinics next week primarily through the use of a nasal swab.

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on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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