Regional genomics projects get funding for COVID-19

Published: June 12th 2020

Halifax, NS – Two teams of Dalhousie University scientists are receiving more than $300,000 in funding for genomics research into critical areas in the battle against COVID-19.  Drs. David Kelvin and Alyson Kelvin (also IWK Health Centre) are pursuing biomarkers for COVID-19 that could predict disease severity; while Drs. Nikhil Thomas, John Archibald and Morgan Langille will pilot an innovative protocol for large-scale surveillance testing.  Both projects are supported by Genome Atlantic with $250,000 in funding from Genome Canada’s COVID-19 Regional Genomics Initiative, with an additional $60,000 provided by Research Nova Scotia to the Thomas project. This new Genome Canada money augments existing funding to the Kelvin project in their search for biomarkers, including funding from Research Nova Scotia provided earlier this year.

Genomics plays an important role in COVID-19 research, from detecting infections and understanding how the virus mutates, to tracking these mutations and developing vaccines and treatments.  Through the COVID-19 Regional Genomics Initiative, Genome Canada and regional Genome Centres across the country are responding to the urgent need for further research.

Drs. David and Alyson Kelvin are at the forefront of an international effort to find biomarkers associated with mild, severe and critically ill patients.  This funding will enable the expansion of current work to include a set of patient samples collected during the outbreak at Northwood long-term care facility. Collaborators include Drs. Melissa Andrew, Ken Rockwood, Sam Suriel, Lisa Barrett, and Barry Clarke (Dalhousie/Nova Scotia Health Authority); Mark Cameron and Cheryl Cameron (United States); and Jesus Bermejo Martin and Salvador Reno Garcia (Spain). This international team will develop and contribute to rapid and reliable patient assessment tools, protocols and Point of Care Devices which utilize biomarkers identified from their work. These tools could help doctors triage patients and inform treatment protocols in a variety of settings including emergency rooms, hospitals, long-term care facilities and ICUs.

The Chief Medical Officer of Canada has identified an urgent need to ramp up COVID-19 testing capacity to support the re-opening of the economy.  While standard diagnostic testing is primarily used for people who are symptomatic or a close contact of a COVID-positive individual, the model piloted by the Thomas-Archibald-Langille team is a surveillance tool that could quickly identify early trends in transmission in high risk settings like long-term care or in workplaces where physical distancing is impossible such as fishing vessels or food processing facilities. Individuals who test positive would then be sent to hospital for a diagnostic test. This new model represents a simple, quick and relatively cheap way to identify hidden chains of transmission in at-risk populations.  

“Canadian scientists are at the forefront of the global race to fight COVID-19. Genome Atlantic is proud to support local scientists who are helping lead the charge, and we thank our funding partners Genome Canada and Research Nova Scotia for enabling this important research,” says Genome Atlantic President and CEO Dr. Steve Armstrong.

Part 1: On the Trail of COVID-1

Part 2: The Race for a Vaccine

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Genome Atlantic is a not-for-profit corporation with a mission to help Atlantic Canada reap the economic and social benefits of genomics technologies.  Since its inception in 2000, the corporation has worked with a range of private and public-sector partners to enable more than $120 million in new genomics R&D. To learn more, visit www.genomeatlantic.ca

Contact:  Charmaine Gaudet, Director of External Relations, 902-488-7837/cgaudet@genomeatlantic.ca