Yue Qian, an assistant professor in the UBC department of sociology, could only look on, as COVID-19 ravaged her home city of Wuhan — the epicentre of an outbreak that has killed more than 3,000 people and infected more than 90,000 globally.
“When the quarantine was first issued, I was so worried,” said Qian. “I was desperately trying to connect with my family in Wuhan to make sure they were OK.”
Fast-forward to today, and Qian has been announced as one of the UBC researchers — along with Dr. Richard Lester, Dr. Srinivas Murthy, Natalie Prystajecky and Dr. Mel Krajden — who are the principal investigators of teams collectively receiving more than $2.8 million in grants from the federal government to study COVID-19.
The federal government is providing the funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canada Research Coordinating Committee through the New Frontiers in Research Fund, the International Development Research Centre, and Genome Canada.
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Qian and her team are receiving $400,468 for their proposed project to study the human experiences and mental health consequences of quarantine.
“I feel that this is the least I can do to help people in my hometown who are suffering a lot right now,” she said.
While she is still in the process of setting up her study, Qian said she has already noticed a common theme during phone conversations with family and friends back home.
“I’ve learned that people are incredibly resilient and that everyone has their own way of coping when they are faced with a difficult situation,” she said. “It’s important for us as social scientists to be able to understand their experiences. I hope my research can contribute in this way.”
Providing care to patients in isolation? There’s an app for that
Dr. Richard Lester, a physician and associate professor in global health at UBC, is leading research to determine the potential for a mobile virtual health care app, called WelTel, to help people who are self-isolating to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
Lester and his team — which includes co-investigator Giuseppe Carenini, professor in the UBC department of computer science — are receiving $500,000 from CIHR to deploy the app, which has already been successfully used in Kenya helping HIV patients adhere to their antiretroviral therapy to achieve undetectable levels of the virus and prevent the spread of HIV.
“Now we have an opportunity to show how WelTel can help stop the spread of COVID-19 through supporting patients who are self-isolating at home,” said Lester.
Developing clinical guidelines to treat infected patients
Dr. Srinivas Murthy, clinical associate professor in the UBC department of pediatrics and investigator and pediatrician at BC Children’s Hospital, is leading a national study of hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19.
His team received $954,936 to conduct research on how best to treat the disease. The team is also working to develop formal treatment guidelines for the World Health Organization.
“It may sound rudimentary, but we still do not know who gets sick and why an individual may become sicker,” he says. “It’s important to gain a deeper understanding of COVID-19 in order to help infected Canadians and people around the world.”