COVID-19 Research Activites in UCVM

Understanding the global landscape of immune and host defense responses in patients requiring life-support in the ICU with severe lung injury due to COVID-19.

PI: Dr. Bryan Yipp, PhD - Critical Care Medicine, CSM, Dr. Jeff Biernaskie, PhD – Department of Comparative Biology and Experimental Medicine, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, CSM

Contact: bgyipp@ucalgary.ca

Other collaborators:

  • Dr. Ian Lewis (Biological Sciences)
  • Dr. Antoine Dufour (McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health)
  • Dr. Marvin Fritzler (Cumming School of Medicine, Snyder Institute)
  • Dr. David Sinasac (Department of Medical Genetics, ACHRI)
  • Dr. Matthew Lines (Department of Medical Genetics, ACHRI)
  • Dr. Jeroen De Buck (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine)
  • Dr. Meer-Taher Shabani-Rad (Cumming School of Medicine),
  • Dr. Margaret Kelly (Cumming School of Medicine, Pathology)
  • Dr. Wendy Sligl (UofA ICU)
  • Dr. Paul Kubes (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Dr. Mark Gillrie (Cumming School of Medicine, Infectious diseases)
  • Dr. Braedon McDonald (Cumming School of Medicine, Critical Care)

Developing diagnostic kits for COVID-19 while working with APL/Provlab/ Health Research Innovation Center (HRIC) to evaluate its clinical performance. BioMEMS lab (PI: Amir Nezhad is developing a rapid diagnostic tool in collaboration with Criticare Dx and CardiAI for detection of COVID-19 genome (RNA) and immune response markers (Immunoglobulin G and M). The platform combines on-chip viral sample collection, lysing, RNA extraction/purification, and target RNA detection, all in one chip. First, in collaboration with UCVM’s Dr. Dongyan Nui (PI) and Dr. Faizal Careem, the performance of the chip will be tested using model corona virus (avian origin), to optimize the processes of viral desorption from swabs, on-chip lysis, and on-chip RNA extraction/purification, and target RNA detection protocols. Then, the optimized chip will be adopted for the detection of human COVID-19 RNAs in collaboration with Alberta Health Service. It is going to be a home test kit compatible with self-sample collection protocols (fingertip and swabs). 

PI: Dr. Dongyan Niu, PhD – Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Amir Sanati Nezhad, PhD - Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, SS

Contact: amir.sanatinezhad@ucalgary.ca

Other collaborators:

  • Faculty of Science
  • BME
  • SSE
  • National Microbiology Laboratory
  • Several Chinese partners and hospitals
  • Byron Berenger (Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine)
  • Faizal Abdul-Careem (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine)
  • Timothy Booth (University of Manitoba)
  • Behrouz Far (SSE)
  • Kartikeya Murari (SSE)
  • Gary Wong (université Laval)

In collaboration with Creative Protein Solutions Inc., we are converting our existing biosensor for the detection of biomarkers of infection and inflammation into a test for antibodies against the new coronavirus. Our biosensor converts these antibodies into glucose, which can be detected by a common glucometer or custom-made device. The test reagents can be produced in unlimited quantities, which would allow screening a large portion of the population for antibodies, to assess exposure levels and ‘herd immunity’.  As an additional bonus, our test will be equally applicable to companion humans and to animals.

PI: Dr. Jeroen De Buck, PhD - Production Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Contact: jdebuck@ucalgary.ca

Other Collaborators:

  • Creative Protein Solutions Inc.

Drs. Rob Deardon & Herman Barkema, with PhD student Mark Lowerison, and Drs. Ryan Lewinson (CSM) and Isabelle Vallerand (CSM), have developed a Susceptible-Infected-Removed (SIR) model for four Canadian cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver) and four American cities (Chicago, Los Angeles County, New York, Seattle/King County) that utilize population demographics of each city, as well as domain-specific contact structures to simulate the effects of social distancing to aid in government and public health planning. 

We developed contact structures that account for age-specific contact patterns for each region that can be broken into four distinct components: home contact, school contact, work contact, other contact. These are applied to each city’s population structure where the weighting of each contact domain can be modified to simulate social distancing. In so doing, we estimate the total epidemic durations, total number of COVID-19 cases (stratified by severity, including need for hospitalization/ICU admission), and the total number of COVID-19 attributable deaths under various social distancing scenarios. 

PI: Dr. Robert Deardon, Dr. Herman Barkema, Department of Production Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Contact: robert.deardon@ucalgary.ca

PI: Dr. David Hall, Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Contact: dchall@ucalgary.ca

Dr. Mark Ungrin is involved in developing an emergency pandemic ventilator design concept. (https://ucalgary.ca/ungrinlab/EPV). This concept is under ongoing development, and under any but the most extreme circumstances should be considered years away from clinical use. The lungs are one of the most delicate organs in the body, and the air pressure changes generated by even a typical household vacuum cleaner are large enough to cause serious injury or death. Do not build or use such a system without expert medical oversight (and even medical experts should only contemplate doing so in cases of dire need, when no other options are available, and with as much safety testing as possible of the completed system prior to operation).

The current COVID-19 pandemic has parallels with the polio outbreaks of the mid-20th century, which also resulted in large numbers of people requiring long-term assisted ventilation. While current ventilator technology largely uses Positive Pressure Ventilation (PPV), solutions at that time focused on Negative Pressure Ventilation (NPV) - the "iron lung". Both drive breathing by establishing a pressure differential between the lung and the outside air, either by increasing pressure within the lung (PPV) or decreasing air pressure immediately around the patient (NPV). PPV systems are generally smaller and more portable, but also more complex, and the systems directly contact the air the patient breathes. NPV systems are simpler and easier to manufacture, and as they work by reducing pressure around the patient's body they do not need to interact directly with the air the patient breathes, meaning tolerances for dust etc. are higher. Both PPV and NPV are compatible with intubation and PEEP (Positive End-Expiratory Pressure), and NPV patients can also wear standard oxygen supply systems (including masks with infection-control filters) as the NPV system does not obstruct the face. NPV chambers were originally large and bulky, but later versions manufactured by Emerson (known as "poncho" or "jacket" designs) were reduced to essentially a bag around the patient within which air pressure could be reduced, plus a support over the patients torso to support the bag and allow room for the chest to expand. The present concept is an NPV system similar to the Emerson device, designed specifically for simplicity and rapid, large-scale implementation. We are not aware of test data on NPV systems in COVID-19 infection, and use in this context would need to be approached with extreme caution. Specific concerns include upper airway collapse or airway obstruction with risk of pulmonary edema, as well as aerosol dispersal of viral particles if the air the patient exhales is not adequately filtered. We emphasize that we cannot provide any assurance of safety or efficacy - this information is released due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the hopes that a safe and effective system can be established that will provide some level of benefit in regions where all other options have been exhausted.

PI: Dr. Mark Ungrin, Department of Comparative Biology and Experimental Medicine, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Contact: mdungrin@ucalgary.ca

Drs. Markus Czub, Sabine Gilch, Hermann Schaetzl, and Frank van der Meer, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, with Dr. Guido van Marle, Cumming School of Medicine. Developing tools for COVID-19 diagnostics, Viral Evolution and Host Responses through the Virology/Prion Research Group. COVID-19 (Rapid) Diagnostics, Virology and Host Responses.

Other collaborators: Dr. Carla Coffin, Dr. Markus Czub, Dr. Faizal Careem, Dr. Jennifer Corcoran, and Dr. Rebekah DeVinney.

PI: Frank van der Meer and Guido van Marle

Contact: vanmarle@ucalgary.ca


UCVM Research Office Updates

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the UCVM Research Office is pleased to provide regular updates to our community.

The UCVM Research Office has been highly involved in facilitating the transition of research to meet the challenges and changes arising from the COVID-19 environment. We are highly involved in the request reviews and tracking of Critical Research Designations for access to campus facilities and labs in the event of restricted access implications at the University. We are also collecting current locations for our Postdoctoral Fellows and Research Associates as we recognize the potential for our trainees to temporarily depart Calgary during this global pandemic. Additionally, in partnership with UCVM’s Spyhill Operations we are collecting interest towards supporting animal care activities by UCVM research teams is ongoing with the intention of ensuring availability of skilled personnel for animal care during the pandemic should the need arise to support a variety of UofC facilities. The UCVM Research Office is also in the early stages of facilitating a coordination of lab equipment checks (e.g., freezers) to support minimizing the volume and frequency of individuals on campus.

UCVM research continues remotely through analysis and writing for publications and towards research grant applications. UCVM has received Critical Research Designations granted to multiple researchers for continued research on-site. These include COVID-19 related projects and ongoing research in which significant amounts of data would be completely lost or compromised, if the experiment or project was terminated early/suddenly. Applications or updates for Critical Research Designations are now through an online form, accessible from the VPR’s main COVID-19 page, and involves approval through the VPR Office.

Research related to COVID-19 is gaining momentum within UCVM and the University of Calgary as a whole. Details on currently active COVID-19 projects involving UCVM researchers is available on our UCVM website, and a full list of COVID-19 projects are available through the VPR’s website. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just announced a $1.1 billion strategy for medical research to fight COVID-10.

We recognize the abundance of news regarding sponsored research budgets in this global pandemic environment, both good and bad. Many new funding opportunities have been announced for research related to COVID-19, for which we are very pleased to have UCVM involvement. There are multiple indications of research project extensions, both funded and cost-neutral, in an effort to provide consistency in the research environment. Unfortunately, we are also learning of foundations being depleted of funds which has potential to reduce the future research funding available to our community. There are no updates available on the UCVM budget at this time.

Trainees are an integral component of our research community. While we have received indication of approval from the Tri-Councils regarding the use of current grant funds to continue providing income support towards eligible research team members, we are very pleased with the recent Government of Canada’s announcement regarding financial support for post-secondary students and recent graduates. While specific details on the disbursement of this $291.6 million support remains to be established, we recognize the Tri-Council support and involvement in this fantastic development to maintain income support for trainees.

We continue to wish health and wellness to you and yours during this challenging situation and look forward to continuing to support the UCVM Research Community.

Please do not hesitate to contact us at any time.

With best regards,

Nicole, Brenda and Hermann

Nicole Stubley | Research Management, Agreements and Programs Advisor
Research Office | Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
University of Calgary
E-mail: nstubley@ucalgary.ca

Brenda Moore Research Advisor
Research Office Faculty of Veterinary Medicine University of Calgary
Phone: 403-210-7309 Fax: 403-210-8121 Email: bjmoore@ucalgary.ca
Office: TRW 2D09 3280 Hospital Dr NW, Calgary, AB T2N 4Z6

Hermann M. Schaetzl, MD, PhD
Associate Dean, Research
Professor, Prion Biology and Immunology
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
University of Calgary
Phone: +1-403-210-6076
Email:  hschaetz@ucalgary.ca