A UBC team led by Dr. François Jean has been funded to produce rapid and detailed characterizations of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern by CoVaRR-Net, a Canadian research network focused on emerging variants.
Throughout the pandemic, mutations in the virus’ genome have produced VoCs such as the Delta variant, that enable the virus to spread more quickly, escape immunity conferred by vaccines, and cause more severe cases of COVID-19.
Funding from CoVaRR-Net will support the interdisciplinary team in systematically profiling the biological properties of SARS-CoV-2 VoCs and investigating the susceptibility of VoCs to potential life-saving treatments. The Network distributed a total of $1.4 million to five projects in it second competition, with the UBC-based project receiving $349,500, according to Network Operating Officer Dr. Cecelia L. Jenkins.
“The aim of the project is to define characteristics of VoCs with the potential for more rapid transmission and severe illness and to leverage that knowledge to anticipate the virulence of future emerging VoCs,” says Dr. Jean, founder of UBC’s Facility for Infectious Disease and Epidemic Research (FINDER).
The team includes:
Dr. François Jean (Team Leader), UBC, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Dr. Mel Krajden, UBC/BCCDC, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Dr. Natalie Prystajecky, UBC/BCCDC, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Dr. Robert Nabi, UBC, Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences
Dr. Wayne Vogl, UBC, Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences
Dr. Theodore Steiner, UBC, Vancouver General Hospital, Department of Infectious Disease
Dr. Andrea Olmstead UBC/BCCDC, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
The researchers will utilize next-generation sequencing to monitor genome mutations (Drs. Prystajecky and Krajden) and use different state-of-the-art, CFI-funded bioimaging platforms to evaluate the impact of viral infectivity and spread on morphology (shape, structure, size, viability) in 3D cell models obtained from patients and in different cell lines. These technology platforms include fluorescence microscopy (Drs. Jean, Olmstead and Nabi) and transmission electron microscopy (Drs. Jean and Vogl).
CoVaRR-Net, a network of interdisciplinary researchers from institutions across the country was created with a $9 million federal investment to assist in the Government of Canada’s overall strategy to address the potential threat of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. Their mandate is to coordinate, facilitate and accelerate rapid response research throughout Canada.
Findings funded by the network inform the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and federal, provincial, territorial, and regional public health decision makers, with the intent of guiding their efforts to reduce virus transmission and keep Canadians safe.
Image: WHO Naming and tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and variants of interest