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OVC Experts Contributing to COVID-19 Fight

COVID illustration (IStock Credit_BlackJack3D)Experts at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) are contributing their knowledge in the media and embracing new research opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With expertise in areas such as disease modelling, epidemiology, infectious disease, public health, disease surveillance, virology and immunology, OVC researchers often have been at the center of the pandemic response.

Zoonotic disease expert, Prof. Scott Weese, director of the University of Guelph’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses, has spoken to national and international media outlets discussing how disease can spread between animals and people and how to care for household pets during the pandemic.

Prof. Amy Greer, Canada Research Chair in Population Disease Modelling, has also spoken to media about global COVID-19 outbreaks and efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus. Greer is using disease transmission models to help the federal government assess potential spread of COVID-19.

Weese and Greer are also contributing to research projects aimed at addressing the coronavirus outbreak. Weese is part of a research project that will investigate the global management of COVID-19 using the “One Health” approach in which human and animal health experts collaborate to manage infectious disease. In another project, Greer will use math and statistical modelling to forecast the near-term course of the epidemic and will build simulations to help guide Canadian health agencies in efforts to limit the spread of the virus.

Greer also is working with epidemiology colleagues from the University of Toronto’s school of public health on an online dashboard called COVID-19 in Canada that illustrates the spread of COVID-19 across the country. Greer’s team of graduate students are helping to gather data from across the country for the dashboard.

In another study, Weese is working with Pathobiology colleague Prof. Dorothee Bienzle to examine what risk COVID-19 in humans poses to their pets and why some animals become infected while others do not. The study includes cats, dogs and ferrets in which at least one human household member has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or has had a positive test result.

Pathobiology professors Sarah Wootton, Byram Bridle and Leonardo Susta, are utilizing their expertise in virology and immunology on a highly collaborative project to develop two different viral vectored vaccine platforms against COVID-19. Once they optimize a prime-boost vaccination strategy that induces robust mucosal immunity, these vaccines will be evaluated at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Their research is among a number of OVC projects receiving U of G Catalyst grant funding for research focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, including Bienzle’s work in SARS-CoV-2 infection in companion animals and a pair of public health research projects with Prof. Andrew Papadopoulos, Department of Population Medicine.

Papadopoulos, who coordinates OVC’s Master of Public Health Program, is working with public health academic colleagues to provide guidance to public health authorities across Canada. He is also providing expertise to the National Collaborating Centres for Environmental Health to identify gaps in system knowledge to help public health agencies with operational and policy support in response to the pandemic.

OVC experts also have been lending their voices to the discussion about scientific advancement. In a Toronto Star commentary, OVC Dean Jeff Wichtel outlined how dealing with disease outbreak requires a One Health approach that accounts for the health of humans, animals and the natural world.

Bridle and Prof. Shayan Sharif, Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies, discussed their concerns with short COVID-19 vaccine timelines and potential impacts, as well as antibody testing and the challenges of developing  COVID-19 vaccine that woriks for seniors in recent commentaries with The Conversation Canada. They were also interviewed for two radio talk shows.

Bridle was interviewed about COVID-19 vaccines by the national news show The West Block, many Global News radio stations across the country and for articles published in the Globe and Mail and National Geographic. He has also been invited to be a speaker about this topic at an upcoming COVID-19 symposium in New Zealand.

In other media, including CBC radio and television, Sharif discussed a research paper he co-authored with a team of U of G computer scientists and veterinary researchers on the use of Twitter to detect and predict the spread of infectious disease outbreaks.

In a co-authored column in the Toronto Star, U of G Prof. Glen Pyle, Department of Biomedical Sciences, explained why those with existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes and hypertension are at higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 infection. Pyle is also a provincial lead for COVID-19 Resources Canada, a hub to resources and expertise.

OVC researchers have also contributed their expertise to a video and webinar series on agri-food in a time of disruption, hosted by the Arrell Food Institute in partnership with Food from Thought and One Health Institute, including COVID-19 + Food Security: The Intersection and COVID 19 + Data Decisions after Disruption. As well, Sharif moderated a webinar focused on COVID-19 lessons and planning for future pandemics related to food animal agriculture. 

Find regular updates on OVC insights and analysis during the COVID-19 pandemic at COVID-19 OVC Insights and Analyses