COVID-19 research on cell therapy, drug screening and marginalized populations funded through Ontario’s Rapid Research Fund

May 21, 2020

Researcher pipetting in a fume hoodResearchers from The Ottawa Hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, have been awarded almost $2 million from Ontario’s COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund for three research projects that could help in the fight against the virus. These three projects were among the first 15 proposals to receive funding from the Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund.

Using cell therapy to calm the immune system in critically ill patients  

Dr. Duncan Stewart and his colleagues were awarded $1,226,245 to launch a clinical trial of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) in people with severe COVID-19. The immune system plays a crucial role in defending the body against COVID-19, but sometimes it can become overactivated, resulting in severe damage to the lungs and death. Previous studies have shown that MSCs from donated bone marrow or umbilical cord blood may be able to dampen an overactive immune response and help repair this kind of lung damage. Very early studies from China suggest this approach might work for COVID-19 patients as well. This trial is expected to enroll up to 27 patients in three stages, with the first phase focusing on establishing a safe dose.   

Repurposing existing drugs and finding new ones  

Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo and his colleagues were awarded $444,833 to use a novel “bio-sensor” they developed to identify drugs that block the COVID-19 virus from attaching to cells, thereby preventing infection. First, they plan to test this novel approach on a library of more than 1,200 small molecules that have been approved to treat other diseases. Then they will attempt to identify novel antivirals drugs from a library of more than 200,000 small molecules. 

Understanding the challenge of COVID-19 for Ottawa’s most vulnerable people

Dr. Smita Pakhale and her colleagues were awarded $198,030 to harness the trust and engagement they have built with Ottawa’s most marginalized communities over the last 10 years through community-based participatory action research to examine how COVID-19 has impacted these individuals. Marginalized people who are low-income, homeless, and at-risk of homelessness face numerous social and health inequities that are exacerbated by crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. These individuals face unique barriers when accessing health services and may be last in line for support. Data co-collected and co-analyzed with people of lived experience could lead to the development of better policies and programs to help vulnerable populations during COVID-19 and future crises. 

“I want to thank the Government of Ontario for supporting COVID-19 research at The Ottawa Hospital and across the province,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. This research has the potential to save lives and improve health in Ontario and around the world.” 

Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are currently exploring more than 50 research projects that could help in the fight against COVID-19This research is possible because of support from The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, including the Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.  

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.  

Media Contact

Amelia Buchanan
Senior Communication Specialist
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Office: 613-798-5555 x 73687
Cell: 613-297-8315