University of Ottawa researchers accelerate the search for answers to COVID-19

Posted on Thursday, June 25, 2020

Illustration médicale d'une cellule de COVID-19


Federal government and provincial partners entrusting uOttawa and its affiliated research institutes with second round of rapid research funding to help accelerate global response to COVID-19

Nine University of Ottawa researchers, five of whom are also members of uOttawa’s affiliated hospital research institutes, have received over $8.6M in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and its partners to accelerate research related to the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada and around the world.

The Government of Canada continues to participate in international efforts to effectively limit the rapid spread of COVID-19 and reduce its effects on communities. To this end, it has invested over $109M nationally to accelerate research into the health problems caused by the virus. These funds will support research on treatments and vaccines, on policies to mitigate the heavy burden that COVID-19 places on health professionals and essential workers, and on implementing social and public safety measures that can be adapted to suit the situation as it evolves.

In March 2020, a group of uOttawa investigators received some $2M from CIHR to help strengthen Canada’s response to COVID-19. This time, the University of Ottawa and its affiliated hospital research institutes will receive a total of over $8.6 million.

Illustration médicale d'un groupe de cellules de COVID-19


The prominent scientists and health professionals who will help play a key role in Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic include:

University of Ottawa

Josephine Etowa (Faculty of Health Sciences) is a professor at the School of Nursing and an expert in diversity in nursing. Her study aims to improve the health system’s response to the African, Caribbean and Black communities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic by developing evidence-based models to inform policy and practice in order to mitigate the virus’ spread and related health consequences in vulnerable communities. 

Cary Kogan (Faculty of Social Sciences) is a professor at the School of Psychology and director of the Centre for Psychological Services and Research. With his partners at Columbia University (Professor G. Reed) and the Canadian Institute for Health Information (Dr. K. Denny), Professor Kogan will assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic globally on mental health professionals and their practice.

Manisha Kulkarni (Faculty of Medicine) is a professor at the School of Epidemiology and Public Health and an expert in infectious diseases and global health. Her research aims to understand the strategies being implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Tanzania and the impact of these efforts on malaria control at the community and health system levels. The results will inform strategies to prevent a resurgence of malaria while maintaining an effective response to COVID-19.

Marc-André Langlois (Faculty of Medicine) is a professor at the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology and the director of the CL2+ Biocontainment Laboratory. His team will establish a high throughput diagnostics and serology testing facility for research and monitor 1000 healthy primary schoolteachers, daycare workers, frontline medical staff in hospitals and elderly people living in retirement homes for the coronavirus and its antibodies. The study will enable early detection of infection and provide critical information about antibodies and immunity to COVID-19, which is key to the development of a vaccine.


Affiliated hospital research institutes

John Bell (The Ottawa Hospital and Faculty of Medicine) is a professor at the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology and an expert in oncolytic viruses. His team will work on rapidly creating and testing several potential COVID-19 vaccines in animal models. This research will build on the team’s unique experience in developing cancer-fighting viruses and studying how viruses interact with the immune system.

Darine El-Chaâr (The Ottawa Hospital and Faculty of Medicine) is a professor at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and an expert in high-risk maternal fetal medicine. Dr. El-Chaâr and her team will investigate the impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women and their babies, including whether a mother can pass COVID-19 to her child during pregnancy.

Peter Liu (University of Ottawa Heart Institute and Faculty of Medicine) is the chief scientific officer and vice-president of research at UOHI and a professor at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. His research is motivated by the fact that elderly patients with previous cardiovascular conditions have a high risk of getting COVID-19 and are three-to-five times more likely to die than other infected patients. Dr. Liu will work on an international study to evaluate whether renin-angiotensin system inhibitors — commonly used medicines for cardiovascular disease — are safe for high-risk COVID-19 patients.

Smita Pakhale The Ottawa Hospital and Faculty of Medicine) is a professor at the School of Epidemiology and Public Health and an expert in health equity, Indigenous health and poverty. Her team will investigate how the pandemic has affected those who are low-income, homeless, and at-risk of homelessness. Data will be co-collected and co-analyzed with people of lived experience.

Duncan Stewart (The Ottawa Hospital and Faculty of Medicine) is the Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and a professor at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. Dr. Stewart and his colleagues aim to determine if a type of cell therapy can reduce the damaging, overactive immune response often seen in critically ill COVID-19 patients. The therapy, using cells derived from umbilical cord blood, will be tested in a randomized, controlled clinical trial in several centres across Canada.

The rapid research grants aim to fund innovative research projects that will help mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the global population and identify novel ways to treat those affected by the COVID-19 virus.


For media enquiries:

University of Ottawa:

Isabelle Mailloux Pulkinghorn, Manager, Media Relations l 613-240-0275


The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute:

Amelia Buchanan, Senior Communications Specialist l 613-297-8315


University of Ottawa Heart Institute:

Leigh B. Morris, Communications Officer l 613-696-7000, ext. 19051


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