U of A researchers receive $2.4 million to help test and treat coronavirus

Mar 11 2020, 10:10 am

The federal government is looking for ways to address the outbreak of COVID-19, by offering millions of dollars in funding to researchers across the country — including at the University of Alberta.

Four labs at the U of A will split the $2.4 million in federal funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Rapid Research Funding Opportunity, that was pledged to the university to help develop tools for testing and potential drugs for treatment.

Coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.

Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Chris Le is leading one the projects to develop a point of care diagnostic tool to provide accurate, fast and inexpensive screening tests.

“We have already started with the development,” said Le in a release.

“The inability to complete rapid screening and early diagnosis significantly hinders the global efforts to effectively contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Le says the team hopes to have the tool available in one to three months.

According to Le, current tests are specialized and complex, and can lead to false negatives in test results.

“Identifying those who are true positive and being ready with appropriate countermeasures early is of the utmost importance,” said Le.

“Short of a vaccine or a cure, a point-of-care medical countermeasure is the most pressing need in the race to stop the marauding virus with a death rate estimated to be 3%, and reaching double digits for the elderly.”

Le and his team are looking to come up with a pair of tests that eliminate the need for elaborate equipment to help where resources may be lacking.

“The specific reaction products are visible to the naked eye, thus eliminating the need for any elaborate equipment in resource-limited settings,” said Le.

“It should also cut the process from four hours to one.”

The other recipients include Joanne Lemieux, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry who is looking at structural studies and evaluation of potential drugs for treating infection,  Matthias Götte, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry who is looking into development and evaluation of SARSCoV-2 RNA polymerase inhibitors, and Kimberly Noels, Faculty of Arts, looking into Chinese and non-Chinese Canadians’ response to the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced today that the government will provide a $1-billion response to help all provinces and territories combat the coronavirus outbreak.