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Sunnybrook scientists receive $5.5M in CIHR funding for COVID-19 research

June 29, 2020

Three projects led by Sunnybrook researchers were awarded more than $5.5M in funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) COVID-19 Rapid Research Funding Opportunity.

“This federal investment from CIHR will enable our dedicated scientists to continue their urgent research, as they work towards finding innovative solutions to the global pandemic,” says Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, vice-president of research and innovation at Sunnybrook. “Congratulations to the scientists on their success.”

The funding is part of a $109M investment in COVID-19 research over the next year. The investment will support 139 research teams from across the country that will focus on accelerating the development, testing, and implementation of measures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19 and its negative consequences on people, communities, and health systems.

Read more about the projects from Sunnybrook below.

SAVE-ICU: Trialing an alternative method of sedation for critically ill COVID-19 patients

A multi-centre clinical trial led by Dr. Angela Jerath, an anesthesiologist and associate scientist in the Schulich Heart Program at Sunnybrook, is studying an alternative method for delivering sedation for COVID-19 patients that need to be placed on a ventilator.

“In order to tolerate the uncomfortable procedure of being put on a breathing machine, patients require intravenous (IV) sedation or sleep-inducing medications. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these drugs are in short supply worldwide due to the high number of COVID-19 patients needing these machines,” says Dr. Jerath, the study’s lead principal investigator.

The research team, a collaborative effort of researchers from across Canada, will look to compare inhaled volatiles — a cheaper and more widely available anesthetic that is commonly used in operating rooms — versus the standard of care. “In addition to easing the pressure on IV sedation stocks, there is some evidence to suggest that these drugs may also have properties that reduce inflammation, which may speed up recovery and reduce the time patients spend on a ventilator,” says Dr. Jerath.

Sunnybrook critical care units have successfully introduced this new sedation care pathway within six weeks aided by intensivists Dr. Brian Cuthbertson (co-principal investigator), Dr. Martin Chapman and Dr. Damon Scales (co-investigators), and supported by respiratory therapy, critical care nursing and anesthesia assistants.

“The support of CIHR for the SAVE-ICU trial will allow us to recruit more patients in multiple centers across Canada, providing an opportunity to address the drug shortages hospitals are facing while possibly improving outcomes for our sickest COVID-19 patients,” says Dr. Jerath.

CONCOR-1 Trial: Developing a treatment from recovered patients' blood plasma

As COVID-19 currently has no treatment, scientists around the world are working to develop one. CONCOR-1 — a collaboration of several institutions including Sunnybrook, McMaster University, Université de Montréal, Canadian Blood Services and Héma- Québec — aims to determine whether convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients is an effective treatment for those currently ill with the virus.

Now well underway, the trial has received countless plasma donations from COVID-19 survivors and treated many patients across the nearly 30 sites active in Canada and the United States.

Dr. Jeannie Callum, an associate scientist in the Tory Trauma Research Program at Sunnybrook and Sunnybrook’s director of utilization for the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Molecular Diagnostics, is one of three co-principal investigators for the North American trial.

“We’re thrilled to receive this support from CIHR. This grant alongside the tremendous support we’ve received from the community will enable us to open more sites and continue to accelerate the trial,” says Dr. Callum.

COVIDFree@Home: Helping those recovering from COVID-19 at home

A transdisciplinary team of researchers from Sunnybrook, University Health Network and the University of Toronto have launched a study to better predict which COVID-19 patients isolating at home or in the community will worsen and require hospitalization.

“The majority of people who test positive for COVID-19 are sent home to isolate. In some cases, these patients can deteriorate quickly and without warning, and we currently cannot accurately predict the approximately 20% who deteriorate and need hospitalization,” says Dr. Andrea Gershon, the study’s principal investigator.

The study uses mobile and wearable devices to collect self-reported symptoms as well as continuous smartwatch-based monitoring of heart rate, respiratory rate, cough, speech and other parameters from patients recovering from COVID-19 at home in order to predict which patients’ conditions will worsen and require hospitalization.

“This sensor data will provide us with large volumes of data and allow us to build accurate real time machine learning models for predicting who needs to go to hospital, says Dr. Gershon. “We’re very grateful for the support from CIHR and the PSI Foundation which will allow us to continue to improve the care for people with COVID-19 isolating at home.”

Read more about the funding announcement on CIHR’s website.

Media contact

Samantha Sexton
Communications advisor