Brock gearing up to contribute to COVID-19 response

Brock University’s research community is stepping up to contribute supplies, facilities and expertise to Canada’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brock has made available supplies of gloves, masks and chemicals to Niagara Public Health, and researchers are also discussing ways to use the University’s Level 3 containment laboratory (CL3).

The Canadian government has already approved Brock’s CL3 lab to be used for COVID-19 research.

“We’re taking a range of steps to prepare for requests that might emerge for research and testing,” says Vice-President Research, Tim Kenyon. “We have a wide variety of expertise and facilities here that can be deployed in the greater fight against this virus.”

Brock’s Office of Research Services (ORS) has put out a call for researchers to submit research proposals in response to the provincial government’s COVID-19 portal, which was posted Thursday, March 26.

Among expertise the Ontario government is looking for include:

  • virtual mental health services for people who are vulnerable or living in remote communities
  • supply chain resiliency monitoring
  • financial planning and advising for small businesses that can be delivered online at low-cost including advice about relief programs and how to apply

Researchers interested in applying for grants in these and other areas should go to the homepage of ORS’s Sharepoint site.

Regarding the CL3 facility, Biological Safety Levels in a lab are ranked from one to four depending on the potential threat of organisms or agents being studied. The labs have increasing protection levels.

Level 3 enables Professor of Biology Fiona Hunter to study the Zika and West Nile viruses, but she and her students are willing to put those studies on hold temporarily should the facility be required for research on the COVID-19-causing virus, called SARS-CoV-2.

Brock also has several Level 2 laboratories that can potentially support a scale-up of COVID-19 testing if demand from Public Health rises. Immunologist and Associate Professor of Health Sciences Adam MacNeil says his lab has the equipment to do this, but needs critical testing materials that are in high-demand globally.

A potential local source has emerged in Norgen Biotek, a company that is working with the University on producing COVID-19 test kits.

“Members of my team would be happy to help at locations outside of Brock as much as here at Brock,” says MacNeil. “They have critical skills that are useful right now, and that realization – within the developing crisis — has empowered them.”

“As well, we are pursuing institutional steps to secure the appropriate license modifications permitting work with SARS-CoV-2, and to modify and upgrade the facilities themselves as needed,” says Kenyon.

Beyond the biological laboratories is a pool of expertise that can address a wide variety of facets of the unfolding pandemic, including financial data analysis, risk management and children’s mental health.

Kenyon continues to receive expressions of interest from across the research community at Brock in response to the pandemic.

“We continue to explore ways to support innovative research projects that can help in the fight against this pandemic,” he says.

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