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About SickKids

April 23, 2020

COVID-19 research projects led by SickKids scientists receive funding from federal government

Two COVID-19 research projects led by scientists at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) received substantial support today from the Government of Canada. Their work will give greater insight into how COVID-19 works, potentially shedding light on future treatment strategies.

Finding answers to COVID-19 in the genome

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced $40 million in funding to Genome Canada and CGEn. CGEn, Canada’s national platform for genome sequencing and analysis, will receive $20 million to lead a nation-wide Host Genome Sequencing Initiative with the aim to sequence genomes of 10,000 Canadians affected by COVID-19. CGEn links three leading genomics centres: The Centre for Applied Genomics (TCAG) at SickKids, the McGill Genome Centre at McGill University and Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver.

A team of renowned researchers from across Canada will work together to decode the genomes of thousands of Canadians across the country, who have been infected with COVID-19 or are still at risk of infection. CGEn will develop and bring access to an information-rich, national database, which will serve as a resource to catalyze national and international research to help determine why people with COVID-19 may experience vastly different health outcomes.

“The emergence of COVID-19 at the footsteps of SARS and MERS highlights a significant issue – that there will be similar outbreaks of severe infectious disease in the future. This investment from the Government of Canada addresses the current COVID-19 outbreak, prepares Canada for a possible re-emergence, and lays the foundation to handle future pandemics,” says Dr. Stephen Scherer, Lead Principal Investigator of CGEn, Director of TCAG at SickKids, and Director of the McLaughlin Centre at the University of Toronto.

Investigating and understanding neurological effects of COVID-19

Minister Bains also announced $675,000 in funding for the Stem Cell Network (SCN), which will partly support a research project led by Drs. Julien Muffat, Scientist in the Neurosciences and Mental Health program at SickKids and Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, and Yun Li, Scientist in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology program at SickKids and Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto.

In response to evidence that many patients with COVID-19 report sensory symptoms, such as loss of smell and taste, visual disturbances and headaches, Muffat and Li’s project seeks to understand which types of human brain cells can be infected by the COVID-19 virus, how these cells respond once infected, and then identify which genes control brain cell infection and response.

Investigating lung and immune mechanisms in COVID-19

A team led by the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute -- including project co-investigator Dr. Amy Wong, Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology, SickKids -- was awarded $195,870 to use human tissue models to investigate how the cells and tissues within the lungs including those that line airways become infected by the virus that causes COVID-19, and how the behaviour of these cells changes once they are infected.