Research Roundup: March 2020

SFU researchers are involved in developing a Coronavirus testing kit

By: Paige Riding, News Writer

SFU researchers have been contributing to the research efforts related to the COVID-19 virus. The researchers mentioned in this piece responded to a funding opportunity announced by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) earlier this year. The opportunity originally provided 47 grants and $52.6 million in total investments. As of March 19, Canada’s Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, announced a further $25 million allocated to research on the virus (enough for 49 more grants, for a total of 96 grants). This funding is a portion of the Canadian government’s $275 million allocated funds to coronavirus research.

SFU researchers are developing COVID-19 testing kits

One would not think to thank a “mango” for helping to cure the worldwide pandemic that is ongoing. However, SFU researchers have been using Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) imaging technology, nicknamed Mango for its colour, to aid in the effort of developing testing kits for COVID-19. Dr. Lena Dolgosheina and microbiology/biochemistry professor Peter Unrau head a small group of researchers looking at RNA molecules within a living cell to better detect viruses.

On SFU’s website, Unrau explained, “We are using the Mango system as a catalyst, to allow us to not only extend fundamental research questions but also to detect pathogens like the coronavirus, faster and more efficiently.” 

With their grant from the Canadian government, the research team is developing a testing tool known as “Mango NABSA (nucleic acid sequence-based amplification),” according to SFU News. These tools may be used to test for things such as the coronavirus. 

“Mango technology is state of the art and the development of effective cures for cancer and other diseases demand better imaging methodologies to rapidly learn how cells work in detail,” said Unrau. 

New study examines the impact of COVID-19 on gender

SFU health sciences researcher Julia Smith is leading an international team in researching gender-related effects of COVID-19 and other diseases. Their efforts focus on gaps in preparation and response as it relates to gender around the world. The team is also developing an online Gender Toolkit to encourage consideration of gender issues during policy development and preparation.

According to SFU’s website, the team, which includes members from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong, will provide recommendations for policy makers in the midst of the pandemic. They will examine data on infections and mortalities to assist responses for the public. 

Smith noted, “Our findings will contribute to the global response of COVID-19 through strengthening understanding of how individuals and communities understand and react to the disease.”

“The sex and gendered dynamics of the COVID-19 outbreak so far are anecdotal, but the consequences of sidelining these can limit equitable, effective responses in affected regions, as well as global prevention and preparedness efforts.”