DLSPH Researchers Part of $2.1 million Grant for COVID-​19 Initiative

June 26/2020

SUPPORT-Canada initiative will capture data and biospecimens in order to identify factors contributing to COVID-19 susceptibility, severity and outcomes in Canada

Two DLSPH researchers are part of a $2.1 million CIHR grant to CanPath (the Canadian Partnership for Canada’s Health) to learn more about COVID susceptibility.

The initiative, titled SUrveying Prospective Population cOhorts for COVID-19 pRevalence and ouTcomes in Canada (SUPPORT-Canada), aims to capture data and biospecimens to enable population-level surveillance. SUPPORT-Canada will enable researchers and clinicians to find factors contributing to COVID-19 susceptibility, severity and outcomes, thus identifying factors predisposing individuals or communities across Canada to a high risk of infection.

“The integration of clinical programs with our broader existing population cohort infrastructure creates the opportunity to rapidly assess patterns across Canada, while discovering and tracking critical biological and environmental determinants of disease susceptibility and severity for COVID-19,” says DLSPH Prof. Philip Awadalla, lead Principal Investigator for SUPPORT-Canada Initiative, along with DLSPH Prof. John McLaughlin.

SUPPORT-Canada will be built out from CanPath, Canada’s largest population cohort, in partnership with the University Health Network (UHN), along with support from numerous research platforms, industry collaborators and service providers. This collaborative effort has been designed to integrate with national and global research efforts, including the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, to support clinical, immunological and genetic studies of COVID-19.

SUPPORT-Canada aims to:

  1. Capture population and clinical-level COVID-19 data and outcomes to support personalized risk profiling, and inform adaptive social and public health responses;
  2. Create capacity for world-leading research in immunophenotyping, seroprevalence and host-viral genetics; and
  3. Explore the role that genetics, co-morbidities and the environment play in shaping the pathophysiology of COVID-19 severity, susceptibility and immunological response.

“Accurate estimates of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies across Canada, which act as markers of infection, are needed to guide ongoing public health measures, particularly those being developed in anticipation of a second wave of disease,” says University de Montréal’s Prof. Philippe Broët, who is leading the serological surveillance aspect of the grant. “This characterization of the evolution of the COVID-19 infection will prove vital in decision-making about immunization and protection strategies.”

Preliminary evidence indicates that increased air pollution is both a risk factor for COVID-19 and associated with increased disease virulence, while other features of the built environment, such as green space and neighbourhood walkability, are thought to be risk factors.

“Given current resource shortages, the healthcare system would benefit from patient-specific algorithms to distinguish who is likely to develop severe disease and identify biomarkers to predict future complications, as the long-term outcomes remain unknown and pose a significant threat for the future burden of disease in the population,” says UBC’s Prof. Trevor Dummer, who is leading the third aim of the project.

“Surveying our large number of engaged participants across the country powers us to determine specific genetic and environmental interactions that together may be used to identify hotspots of risk across Canada”, adds Awadalla, who is also Executive Scientific Director of the Ontario Health Study. CanPath launched a survey in April that captures not only COVID-19 testing information, but also symptoms, clinical history, and asks participants how the pandemic has affected their mental health.

This investment supports research teams from across the country to focus on accelerating the development, testing, and implementation of measures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19 and its negative consequences on people, communities, and health systems.

The SUPPORT-Canada research team includes co-investigators from all of CanPath’s regional cohorts, as well as experts in immunology, genomics and biobanking from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, University Hospital Network and Mount Sinai Hospital.

The CIHR grant will be awarded through the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, which is a partner with DLSPH in supporting CanPath.

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