Our research program is focused on supporting the fight against COVID-19. In an effort to help fight this global pandemic, we have a special call for research proposals for any work that will actively contribute to finding COVID-related treatments or vaccines, or improve conditions for frontline workers. The call is open to researchers from any institution, in any location. Below are examples of some of the research related to COVID-19 that is being conducted at our facility.

Extending the lifespan of N95 masks

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Studying how to damage the COVID-19 virus

Dr. Michael Pravica from the University of Nevada is using the CLS to study how nucleic acids get damaged under X-ray irradiation. His team hopes to use this information to selectively damage parts of the virus that causes COVID-19 and to help develop an effective coronavirus vaccine.

Developing more effective drugs

In this video, University of Alberta researcher Joanne Lemieux explains how structural biologists use synchrotron data to develop treatments for COVID-19.

Innovative testing

Tyler Morhart looking at a laser writer at the CLS. The room appears a yellow colour.
Tyler Morhart looking at a laser writer.
Imagine a doctor’s office, with multiple rooms for COVID19 testing, so small that it could fit on a postage stamp. Researchers from the CLS and Université Laval are trying to create a device that would work similarly to this. Tyler Morhart, a CLS Associate Scientist, is using our SyLMAND beamline to develop a device with multiple narrow channels through which a small fluid sample from a patient could flow. Meanwhile, Jesse Greener, Laval professor and MidIR beam team member, is creating an accessory that could systematically run various tests through the channels to determine if the patient has coronavirus. If successful, this project could improve Canada’s testing and contact tracing performance. However, using human hands and an ultraviolet laser system to carve channels that are only a few hundred microns wide is not easy. “It’s miniscule!” Morhart said. It is so small that a human hair could overfill one channel. “This builds on previous work in SyLMAND, and it is exciting to apply it to a real problem,” he added. Morhart has already shipped an early-stage prototype of the device to his collaborators in Laval and will continue to make refinements and more devices over the next few months. “I come from a family of nurses and I’m the only member of my family who is not in healthcare. So, it is really rewarding to say that, in some small way, I am trying to make a difference,” he said.

 

Finding new therapies

From his lab at the University of Alberta, Dr. Jiang Yin is using the CLS to find new therapies that will help treat COVID-19. With the help of the CMCF beamline, Yin will analyze the papain-like protease — a protein that the SARS-CoV-2 virus needs to establish a COVID-19 infection. This important protein cuts a long chain of viral proteins into smaller functional parts and is the first protein that the virus makes when it enters our cells. The papain-like protease can also influence our immune response, making it easier for the virus to slip past our immune system.

With the help of other researchers (Drs. Rashmi Panigrahi, Tooba Shamsi, and Pravas Baral in the labs of Profs. Michael James and Mark Glover), Yin is looking for small molecules that could bind to the protease and inhibit its activity. This research can lead to new therapeutics for the disease and help in the global fight against COVID-19.

Stopping infection in its tracks

Dr. Ken Ng, professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at University of Calgary, is working with colleague Dr. Chang-Chun Ling to develop therapeutics for COVID-19.

With his structural biology background, Ng and his lab are studying the polymerase of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID19. This essential enzyme copies the genetic material of the virus and is crucial to the creation of new viruses. The goal is to design new drugs that will inhibit the polymerase which will prevent the virus from making new viruses and stop the infection in its tracks.

With the help of the #CMCF beamline at the CLS, Ng hopes to gather detailed data about the enzyme that will help design the best drugs to beat back COVID-19.

Analyzing antibodies

Image of Dr. James Rini, the COVID-19 virus, and the CLS synchrotron.
Dr. James Rini from the University of Toronto is using the CLS to study how antibodies work against the coronavirus.

Researchers have developed antibodies that can neutralize COVID-19. Our bodies can create antibodies to fight viruses once we are exposed, but the same antibodies can also be created in the lab. In a collaborative effort, a team led by Dr. James Rini at the University of Toronto has developed synthetic antibodies that could be used to protect frontline health workers, or as therapeutics for patients struggling to fight the virus.

Their team is going to use our  CMCF beamline to see in detail how the antibodies work against the coronavirus, information that could lead to improved antibody therapeutics and guide vaccine design. “When we see the X-ray crystal structure of the antibody in complex with the receptor binding domain of the virus, this could help us to refine and improve those antibodies,” Rini said. “The structure will also give us an idea of how we might select a key fragment of the virus to be used as a vaccine.”

For years, Rini and his colleagues have been sending samples to our synchrotron for analysis. “They enable us to do cutting-edge work,” he said. “We get tremendous support and it’s a top-notch facility.” He is keen to use the CLS to help contribute to the global fight against the pandemic. “We are working on something that is causing immense problems worldwide - it’s exciting to think that we might contribute to some form of treatment.” 

However, he noted that it will likely be years before a COVID-19 treatment is available to the public. “This is a new virus. There are many fundamental aspects of this virus that we don’t yet understand. We don’t know for sure, if these therapeutics are going to be effective and safe in humans and much testing needs to be done before they can be administered.”

Stay tuned

We will share more examples of COVID-19 research happening at our facility on this page soon. 

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