University to support 31 high-impact coronavirus research projects through Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund

The University of Toronto will support 31 research projects through the $8.4-million Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund – set up less than a month ago to support high-impact research by U of T and its hospital partners that contributes to the global fight against the novel coronavirus.

The projects, which range from medical interventions to measures aimed at supporting the economy and vulnerable populations, were chosen on the basis of their potential to have a positive impact on individuals, communities and public health systems within a timeframe of a year or less.

They were selected from among 338 applicants via a fast-tracked, peer-reviewed competition. Less than 30 days elapsed between the creation of the fund and the winning projects being announced.

“The Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund is a testament to the University of Toronto’s unique ability to quickly mobilize its resources, engage the creativity and ingenuity of its researchers and draw on the strength of its partnerships with partner hospitals to respond to the most urgent public health, economic and societal challenge of our time,” said Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives.

“COVID-19 presents an array of unprecedented global problems that require urgent attention and expertise from experts in a wide variety of disciplines – from medical specialists and public health researchers to economists, social scientists and mathematicians.

“We are confident these projects will each, in their own way, make important contributions to the global fight against this pandemic.”

The 31 projects include an initiative to research the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic response on marginalized people, led by Ahmed Bayoumi, a professor in the department of medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and a scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, part of Unity Health Toronto.

In the realm of medical interventions, Jordan Feld, associate professor in U of T’s department of medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and a senior scientist at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute at the University Health Network, plans to carry out a phase two drug trial for the treatment of COVID-19.

Also funded were research projects by Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s Samira Mubareka and Robert Kozak, both of the department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine, that could pave the way to better understanding and treatment of the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2.

The role of genetics in the pandemic response will be explored by Aled Edwards, professor at the Donnelly Centre for Molecular and Biomolecular Research and director of the Structural Genomics Consortium. He will lead work on the Toronto Open Access COVID-19 Protein Manufacturing Centre.

Other research projects will address social, economic and public policy issues.

Janet Smylie is a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, director of Well Living House at St. Michael’s Hospital and an expert in public health in the context of Indigenous populations. She will use an action fund grant to support the rapid implementation of a shared COVID-19 tracking and response platform for First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations.

U of T Mississauga anthropologist and lecturer Madeleine Mant will receive support for her project titled, “Going viral: COVID-19 and risk in young adult health behaviour models.”

The impact of COVID-19 on the economy is another area of significant concern, with Professor Scott Schieman, chair of the department of sociology in the Faculty of Arts & Science, leading a project to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on the quality of work and economic life in Canada.

The funding for these and other projects was drawn from U of T and other university sources, including the McLaughlin Centre, Medicine by Design, partner hospitals and philanthropic donors. Successful applicants are also eligible for additional support for a trainee through a generous agreement with MITACS.

“We would like to extend our thanks to all the scholars who submitted proposals to the Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund, and we will continue to work hard to find ways to support our researchers in their efforts to devise solutions to this crisis,” said Goel. “I would also like to thank the reviewers that provided assessment in a short period of time and our staff that worked diligently and around the clock to complete this record-setting peer review process.”

“U of T takes very seriously its public responsibility to make key contributions to the response to COVID-19, and I would like to congratulate everybody involved in the rapid creation and execution of the action fund for their tireless efforts.”

Goel noted that additional projects may be funded through the action fund as funds continue to be raised and additional partners contribute. All those that were not selected are being directed to other funding sources, including those listed on the Centre for Research and Innovation Support’s COVID-19 research website.


Here are the researchers being supported by the Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund:

Upton Allen of the department of paediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation and the Hospital for Sick Children – Immune responses to COVID-19: Correlates across the age spectrum

Robert Batey of the department of chemistry in the Faculty of Arts & Science – Synthetic chemistry as a core technology platform for the response to the COVID-19 pandemic: chemistry COVID-19 core facility

Ahmed Bayoumi of the department of medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Unity Health Toronto -The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic response for people who are marginalized

Laurent Brochard of the department of medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Unity Health Toronto – Careful ventilation in patients with ARDS induced by COVID-19

Jeannie Callum of the department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology in the Faculty of Medicine and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre – Convalescent plasma for COVID-19 research trial

Warren Chan of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering – A quantum dot portable diagnostic device for COVID-19

Angela Cheung of the department of medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation and the University Health Network – The Ontario COVID-19 prospective cohort study

Leo Chou of the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering – Enzyme-free, one-step nucleic-acid detection for point-of-care COVID-19 diagnostic screening

Paul Dorian of the department of medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Unity Health Toronto – Evaluation of a small gas-powered and patient-responsive automated resuscitation/ventilation

Aled Edwards of the Donnelly Centre for Molecular and Biomolecular Research – Toronto Open Access COVID-19 Protein Manufacturing Centre

Jordan Feld of the department of medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and the University Health Network – Interferon lambda for immediate antiviral therapy at diagnosis: a phase II randomized, open-label, multicentre trial to evaluate the effect of peginterferon lambda for the treatment of COVID-19

Benjamin Fine of the department of medical imaging in the Faculty of Medicine and Trillium Health Partners – Building a real-time health system COVID collaborative data and analytics hub in Ontario

Shana Kelley of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy – Accelerated, centralized development of diagnostics and therapeutics to combat the COVID-19 pandemic

Robert Kozak of the department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology in the Faculty of Medicine and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre – Development of models of pathogenesis and vaccines for SARS-CoV-2

Madeleine Mant of the department of anthropology of U of T Mississauga – Going viral: COVID-19 and risk in young adult health behaviour models.

Rhonda McEwen of the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology at U of T Mississauga – Digital technologies and Chinese interpersonal communication on the mainland and in the diaspora: the case of COVID-19

Allison McGeer of the department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology in the Faculty of Medicine, Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Mount Sinai Hospital – Working on control of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care

Andrew Miles of the department of sociology at U of T Mississauga – Using pro-social behaviour to safeguard mental health and foster emotional well-being

Jason Moffat of the Donnelly Centre for Molecular and Biomolecular Research – Identification of host dependency factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection and replication to accelerate drug repurposing efforts

Samira Mubareka of the department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology in the Faculty of Medicine and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre – Just-in-time pathogenomics for SARS-CoV-2, data for immediate action

Elizabeth Peter of the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing – Reducing the moral distress of nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic

Mohammad Qadura of the department of surgery in the Faculty of Medicine and Unity Health Toronto – Keeping everyone safe: Using contactless transdermal optical imaging to obtain patient vitals and symptom report in the time of COVID-19

Matt Ratto of the Faculty of Information – Toronto Emergency Device Accelerator

Scott Schieman of the department of sociology in the Faculty of Arts & Science – COVID-19 impacts on the quality of work and economic life in Canada

Michelle Science of the department of paediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine and the Hospital for Sick Children – Health-care worker seroprevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies

James Scott of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health – Improving and evaluating aerosol PPE and containment devices for the COVID-19 virus

Janet Smylie of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Unity Health Toronto – Rapid implementation of a shared COVID-19 tracking and response platform for First Nations, Inuit and Metis populations in Canada

Igor Stagljar of the department of biochemistry in the Faculty of Medicine – Immunotyping of COVID-19 Patient Sera Using Novel Protein Complementation-Based Assays

Rima Styra of the department of psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine and the University Health Network – Mental health outcomes in health-care workers during COVID-19

Jeff Wrana of the department of molecular genetics in the Faculty of Medicine and Mount Sinai Hospital – A massively parallel, ultra-high throughput next-generation sequencing platform for widespread screening of COVID-19 and associated risk factors

William Yun Yu of the department of computer and mathematical sciences at U of T Scarborough – Privacy-preserving contact tracing app

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