Canadian scientists fight coronavirus pandemic on dozens of fronts

Public health officials across Canada and around the world are working flat out to test as many people as possible for the novel coronavirus.

Srinivas Murthy is working to figure out how to help them if the result is positive.

“What medicines work?” he asks. “We don’t know.”

Murthy, a professor of critical care at the University of British Columbia, is one of hundreds of Canadian scientists spending long hours in their labs and by their computers trying to help governments and clinicians figure out how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, the federal government awarded almost $27 million in grants to coronavirus-related research. The money is funding 47 projects across the country.

There are studies into faster diagnostic tests, how the disease is transmitted and the structure of the virus itself. Other scientists are considering why some people ignore public health warnings and how the public perceives risk.

Some are asking how to keep health workers safe. Some are looking at the effects on children or Indigenous people or on food security. Lessons from past public-health crises are also being studied.

“It’s basic research. It’s public health research. It’s community-based research,” said Yoav Keynan of the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases at the University of Manitoba.

“Many are redirecting their efforts to the virus. There are many things that need to be worked on.”

Murthy is trying to find out how hospitals can treat patients who have the COVID-19 virus. Each virus is different, he said, and what works on one won’t work on another.

“This is a new virus,” he said. “We don’t know what specific medication works.”

That means trying familiar drugs that have been effective on other viruses. Using what’s known about this coronavirus, Murthy estimates the chances of old drugs working on it and starts with the most likely candidate.

“We build on what we’ve already got,” he said.

Right now, he’s working with an antiviral agent that was originally developed in the fight against AIDS. Clinical trials with COVID-19 patients who have agreed to participate are the next step.

“We know it’s safe,” said Murthy. “We don’t know if it’s effective.”

When you include public health and medical personnel involved, the scientific fight against the coronavirus now involves thousands of people, Keynan said.

“There are many gaps in understanding the transmission of the virus — how long the virus stays on surfaces or the proportion of individuals that contract the virus but remain asymptomatic and serve as a reservoir for spreading the virus.”

The good news is that public-health research has come a long way since the SARS virus swept through 26 countries in 2003.

“We have better communication, better knowledge-sharing and better lab capacity,” said Keynan.

“Sharing of information globally and within Canada has improved dramatically over the last 17 years. And we’re going to need all of it.”

Canadian scientists are at the forefront of worldwide efforts to bend the curve of COVID-19 infections down, said Keynan.

“Canadian researchers are global leaders in infectious diseases and virology and we have better capacity than we had in 2003 to be meaningful contributors. We are making contributions.”

But no single lab or nation is going to come up with all the answers on its own, Keynan said.

“This is not a Canadian effort. This is a global effort.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Non-profits that are helping people impacted by COVID-19 can apply for relief funding

Red Deer and District FCSS can draw from a provincial pot of $30 million

Bank of Canada cuts key interest rate target while Libs up wage subsidy

OTTAWA — Canada’s central bank made yet another unscheduled rate cut Friday… Continue reading

A message from the Advocate publisher

In good times and bad, The Red Deer Advocate has been here… Continue reading

No Alberta renter will be evicted for non-payment on April 1, promises the premier

No evictions during the entire Alberta public health emergency

WATCH: COVID-19 doesn’t stop Red Deer Public Library from telling stories

Deb Isbister has been reading stories to children for more than 20… Continue reading

Alberta Health Services provides COVID-19 prevention tips

Alberta Health Services has a number of recommendations for people amid the… Continue reading

Alberta government website has latest COVID-19 statistics

Red Deer Advocate readers can stay up to date on the COVID-19… Continue reading

A message from Central Alberta Co-op

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge that’s having a real impact… Continue reading

4 passengers dead aboard cruise ship anchored off Panama

4 passengers dead aboard cruise ship anchored off Panama

Drumheller Institution in Alberta locked down, two inmates tested for COVID-19

Drumheller Institution in Alberta locked down, two inmates tested for COVID-19

Alberta’s premier rejects call to fire health minister over abuse of citizens

Alberta’s premier rejects call to fire health minister over abuse of citizens

Trump boosts virus aid, warns governors to be ‘appreciative’

Trump boosts virus aid, warns governors to be ‘appreciative’

Marc Miller urges First Nations to delay elections during COVID-19 crisis

Marc Miller urges First Nations to delay elections during COVID-19 crisis

Most Read