A secret weapon, if you will, that is being developed at Western University in London, Ontario, to examine humanity's greatest viral risks could help prepare Canada and the rest of the globe for the next pandemic.
According to Western Prof. Eric Arts, who will serve as executive director of the new Pathogen Research Centre and holds the Canada Research Chair in HIV pathogenesis and viral control, "[this is] the next level, in terms of having a facility that truly can make a difference" (PRC).
This will be incredibly incredible and completely alter how we tackle these issues. The PRC, which is expected to be constructed within the next two years, will resemble a department of viral defense and function as both a simulated battlefield and an arsenal. It will enable researchers to learn how germs spread in human environments and to create new defenses against them in the hope of preventing the next pandemic before it starts.
Testing viruses in human-like environments
Federal cash totaling $16 million will go toward the new lab. It is a component of a larger package of funding for eight colleges that the Canada Foundation for Innovation announced this month to maintain Canada's position as a leader in the field of preventing local outbreaks from spreading to cause major public health crises.
The COVID-19 pandemic, according to Roseann O'Reilly Runte, president and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, "clearly demonstrated the importance of cutting-edge research in infectious diseases" and "ensuring labs meet standards and are well equipped to combat new challenges in biosciences."
The PRC's goal is to comprehend how viruses spread in actual human contexts with accurate conditions, like airplane cabins, operating rooms in hospitals, and even public restrooms.
According to Arts, his team is trying to identify the precise circumstances that would account for the specific kinds of superspreader events that grabbed attention during the COVID-19 pandemic's most anxious days.
"We'll have mimic people, like mannequins in these chairs that perform regular breathing, and we'll be spraying the virus in a space that, for example, is a slice of an airline cabin."
Arts and his team utilize artificial lungs lined with cells similar to those found in real lungs to give mannequins the ability to breathe. They then pump air into the lungs at the same respiration rate and air pressure that occurs during regular breathing. To comprehend how different surfaces, temperatures, humidity, and wind flow affect the transmission, this is done.
"By doing this, we can consider how to keep people from getting sick as well. We'll be able to do it more skillfully."
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic overflowed hospitals and cemeteries, and while people stayed at home from work and shopping to prevent the virus from spreading, it led to significant economic losses.
"Because we lacked the equipment to make these vaccines, we were having trouble in Canada. Canada could create its vaccine, in contrast to the majority of the G7 nations, thus there is an urgent need for facilities to act quickly "Arts stated.
Many people at the time were shocked and frustrated by how a virus could have taken the best medical brains by surprise. Because of this, Arts stated that the other half of Western's new PRC would be devoted to developing defenses against emerging viruses before they even occur.
According to Arts, the construction of the new lab cannot come soon enough for many of his team's business partners.
He will build on his present work at Western University's Impact Facility, a viral imaging lab that was just three months old when the pandemic struck Canada early in 2020. Through the new facility, he will expand on that work.
When businesses came knocking on the door seeking guidance on how to develop new materials and spaces that would reduce the spread of COVID-19, the lab was immediately put to use for more useful uses.
Currently, Arts and his team are working with 35 major corporations, including 3M Canada, who are interested in enhancing the designs of machinery, buildings, clothes, and ventilation systems to provide people with better protection from the environment.
In terms of creating new virus-resistant materials for industry, the PRC will make Western University and London well-known. But it also has the potential to revolutionize how people approach illness.
The next time a virus like COVID-19 moves from animals to people, having efficient and safety-tested vaccinations for viruses could give us a significant advantage, according to Dr. Michael Silverman, director of the infectious disease department at St. Joseph's Health Care in London.
"Those months [without a vaccine] were exceptionally difficult, as everyone who experienced the pandemic knows.”
If an epidemic arises before it turns into a pandemic, we would be prepared by studying [viruses] early, creating prospective vaccine candidates, and storing them in a bank.
If we had had coronavirus vaccines in vaccine banks, it would not just have benefited Canada but the entire world.
It's very thrilling, he declared. It's a significant improvement in Canada's capacity to prepare for and combat potential pandemics and epidemics.
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