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CBC: From vaccine research to developing tests, Manitoba scientists playing important part in COVID-19 fight

May 12, 2020 — 

University of Manitoba researchers and alumni are contributing the the global efforts in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic. 

As reported by CBC, two research teams from the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and another led by a UM alumnus working at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are making an important contribution in a battle against a virus which has affected nearly every aspect of humanity.

They’re not necessarily treating sick patients in hospitals, but a number of Manitoba-based scientists are working long hours and facing remarkable pressure to battle the novel coronavirus from their labs and research facilities.

Xiao-Jian Yao

Xiao-Jian Yao is among them.

The professor in the University of Manitoba’s department of medical microbiology was recently awarded nearly $600,000 from the Canadian Institute of Health Research and Research Manitoba to work on developing a vaccine for COVID-19.

Yao, who has a background in studying viruses like HIV and H5N1, is studying and developing COVID-19 vaccine candidates, and testing their ability to produce immunity responses in mice. 

From there, he’ll work toward testing on humans.

Ryan Zarychanski

One of the other scientists contributing his knowledge to the field is working to help treat the symptoms of the virus that can sometimes be fatal.

Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, a hematologist and critical care physician with Cancer Care Manitoba who also teaches at the University of Manitoba, is leading a clinical trial in Manitoba that recently got a $700,000 funding boost from the province. He hopes to be among the recipients of federal grant money as well.

When the pandemic hit, he and his research team shifted their focus to work on therapies for COVID-19.

Zarychanski [BSc/05, BSc (Med)/00] is testing several drugs, including hydroxychloroquine — a drug approved by Health Canada to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus — to see if it can prevent contracting COVID-19 after exposure to the virus that causes it, and whether the drug can be used to keep symptoms from worsening for those who have the illness.

Brad Pickering

Governments all over the world are looking into widely testing their populations for COVID-19, and one Manitoba scientist is working to make that testing easier.

Brad Pickering [BSc/03, PhD/10] received more than $400,000 from the federal government and Research Manitoba to look into developing portable diagnostics for COVID-19 that can be used anywhere from a care home to an airport to a patient’s bedside.

Pickering, who is the head of special pathogens at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, is working on developing an easy to use, battery-operated diagnostic tool.

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