null Results of MI4 Emergency COVID-19 Research Funding (Round 2)

RI-MUHC researchers awarded MUHC Foundation funding for a second round of projects with potential impact in a short timeframe

May 25, 2020

Source: MI4 and MUHC Foundation. Thanks to the generous support of the McGill University Health Centre Foundation and its partners, the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4) has awarded funding for an additional 20 projects in Round 2 of the MI4 Emergency COVID-19 Research Funding (ECRF) program. This brings the total number of ECRF projects funded to date to 36, with a total allocation of nearly $3 million in direct research funding. In Round 2, twenty-one members of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) are among the lead investigators on newly funded projects selected for their innovation, feasibility and potential to have impact within a short timeframe.


Together with MI4 colleagues, RI-MUHC researchers will play key roles in the following projects:

Understanding how pandemics affect mental health
No recent infectious disease outbreaks compare with the global impact of COVID-19, and there is very little understanding of the effects the pandemic has had on mental health. Researchers will review what we currently know about mental health during disease outbreaks and pandemics to help inform how the population should be supported throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Connecting isolated COVID-19 patients with their families
Upon hospitalization, patients with COVID-19 are physically isolated. Only essential healthcare personnel interact with these patients, hidden behind masks and gloves, and for restricted periods of time. This isolation, though essential to avoid spreading the disease, can lead to loneliness, depression, anxiety, fear and, consequently, poor health outcomes. Researchers will study whether video calls from patients to their loved ones can reduce negative emotions and whether we can learn from this strategy to combat loneliness and poor mental health in older adults in the post-COVID-19 period.

Testing anti-malaria drugs in children with COVID-19
CATCO is a Canada-wide study that is testing the efficacy of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat adults hospitalized with COVID-19. Now, pediatric infectious disease specialists are performing a similar study on children to determine whether the drug can reduce the severity of the COVID-19 infection and lead to faster recovery and shorter hospital stays. This study will be the first randomized trial in children with COVID-19.

Safeguarding the mental health of healthcare workers
COVID-19 presents an increased challenge in the psychological wellbeing of healthcare professionals. Researchers will investigate current coping strategies healthcare workers use to deal with stress, assess their effectiveness, and use that information to recommend new measures to protect the mental health of healthcare professionals.

Helping families cope with self-isolation
Evidence suggests that self-isolation has negative effects on mental health, including stress, anxiety and PTSD-like symptoms. The strain of social isolation can particularly affect families, and problems are worsened by quarantine-specific stressors like fear and financial strain. This research project will explore factors which may influence adaptation to quarantine, help identify children and families at risk, and develop interventions.

  • Lily Hechtman with MI4 colleagues Philippe Hwang and Lindsay Parr

A mobile app to help care for COVID-19 patients at home
A primary aim of public health agencies is to identify, monitor, track, isolate, and treat anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 to prevent transmission. Around 90% of those who test positive for COVID-19 stay home after diagnosis. Researchers are creating an app that provides resources for COVID-19 patients isolating at home. Patients will be able to self-monitor symptoms and connect with healthcare providers if their illness worsens.

A way to disinfect and reuse surgical masks
Face masks, gowns and face shields are essential to keeping healthcare workers safe and preventing transmission of COVID-19, but the huge increase in demand means that hospitals across Canada have no choice but to ask workers to re-use this vital equipment. This research will test whether ultraviolet (UV) light is effective in sterilizing N95 masks, surgical masks and plastic face shields, and whether the light degrades the filtration quality of the masks.

A test for COVID-19 immunity
If enough people are immune to COVID-19, the virus can no longer transmit effectively, so the spread of infection stops. Researchers are studying blood samples from COVID-19 patients and asymptomatic people to determine when antibodies to the virus appear. Antibodies produced by the body in response to infections such as COVID-19 can protect against future exposures to the virus. By understanding when antibodies form in patients with COVID-19 and asymptomatic carriers, the researchers will be able to recommend testing to measure immunity in the population.

Repurposing vaccine formulas for COVID-19
Researchers are working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine by adapting and testing two existing vaccines used for tuberculosis and adenovirus. Because both of the existing vaccines are approved for use in humans, developing a COVID-19 vaccine using the same principles could lead to creating an approved vaccine faster.

Realistic public expectations for vaccine development
Researchers are undertaking three projects to measure public expectations regarding vaccine availability and provide current information on vaccine development. Researchers are developing a public, interactive online COVID-19 vaccine tracker to provide real-time updates about progress toward developing a vaccine (1). Additionally, they will use historic success rates for viral vaccine development to provide projections for when a COVID-19 vaccine might be available. (2). They are also comparing how well estimates of when COVID-19 treatments will be available align to the perceptions of the Canadian and U.S. populations (3).

Understanding how SARS-COV-2 infects the body
Researchers are harnessing vesicles, small cellular structures that move biological materials from one cell to another inside the body, to understand how the SARS-CoV-2 virus infects the body. The research team is working to understand how the coronavirus pretends to be natural vesicles to infect the body and how to stop its penetration into cells.

Caring for heart patients during COVID-19
After noticing an unexpected decrease in heart attacks since the COVID-19 pandemic started, researchers are determining whether people suffering from cardiac episodes are avoiding hospitals for fear of contracting COVID-19, or if social isolation has indeed reduced the incidence of heart attacks due to reduced physical activity and work-related stress.

Predicting severity of COVID-19 illness
Researchers are developing a test to predict the severity of an individual’s COVID-19 illness. The test searches for signs that a specific type of white blood cell is working in overdrive, and potentially causing harm to tissues. If this test proves accurate, it will allow physicians and nurses to quickly assess each patient’s risk and monitor them accordingly.

These disbursements have been made possible by the generosity of multiple donors to the MUHC Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Fund, totaling over $4.5 million to date, including $1.5 million for this round of funding alone. MI4 highlights the generosity of the following donors: the Hewitt Foundation, the late Elspeth McConnell, the Trottier Family Foundation, A. Vogel, Alliance Quebec Chinese Association, Behavior Interactive, Mark Beaudet, John Blachford, Croix Bleue du Québec, Future Electronics, Russell Hiscock, The Gulshan and Pyarali G. Nanji Family Foundation, James Cherry and Jane Craighead, the Henry and Berenice Kaufman Foundation, Peter Pascali, Power Corporation of Canada, the Mike and Valeria Rosenbloom Foundation, Francesco Saputo, Patricia Saputo, Murray Steinberg, Deirdre Stevenson, Maks and Diane Wulkan.

In addition, we are grateful for support from the Rossy Foundation to McGill University Advancement, as well as the Montreal General Hospital Foundation and the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Learn more on the MI4 website
Read about Round One results