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Federal funding announced for U of R researcher working to contain and combat COVID-19

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: November 9, 2020 10:00 a.m.

Dr. Mohan Babu received CFI Exceptional Opportunities Funding to help cover the urgent need for equipment for ongoing research related to COVID-19.
Dr. Mohan Babu received CFI Exceptional Opportunities Funding to help cover the urgent need for equipment for ongoing research related to COVID-19. Photo: U of R Photography

As we enter into the second wave of the pandemic, the number of people infected as well as those who have died keeps climbing.  Canadian researchers are well aware of the urgency to  to better understand, combat, and contain COVID-19.

To help meet their goals, the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced funding for research infrastructure support through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) Exceptional Opportunities Fund.  The funding will help to cover the urgent need for equipment for ongoing research related to COVID-19.

One of the researchers who received funding is University of Regina biochemist Dr. Mohan Babu who is working to prevent SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — from developing in humans and to rapidly and reliably detect the virus, even in asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients. He received $200,000.

“This CFI funding will help my team to obtain the equipment we need to do the important work of trying to contain and better detect the virus,” says Babu, who is collaborating with scientists and researchers across the country.

Babu says his research is focused on peptide therapeutics, which, using certain molecules called peptide inhibitors, can block the virus from entering the human host.

“These peptides don’t prevent someone from contracting SARS-CoV-2, but they could prevent the virus from entering or replicating in the body,” explains Babu.

Babu says that current diagnostics can be unreliable with asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic people – something that we can see right now with the rise of community transmission numbers.

“The most common way we test for COVID is to use an invasive nasal swab, but this technique doesn’t always provide an accurate diagnosis,” says Babu. “But our saliva also contains SARS-CoV-2-specific biomarkers. Part of our research is to continue to work on developing testing for the virus through saliva – which could provide results within minutes.”

Dr. Kathleen McNutt, University of Regina Vice-President (Research), says Babu’s research could be a vital piece of the puzzle that could help to protect the health of people in Canada and across the globe.

“CFI is supporting the University of Regina-led work that may soon be able to contain the virus within our bodies and to develop a non-invasive, sensitive, rapid, low-cost diagnostic platform for mass screening,” says McNutt. “Dr. Babu is part of a phenomenal worldwide effort to better understand, treat, and eventually contain the coronavirus.” 

CFI contributed $27,617,017 for 79 projects at 52 institutions across the country.

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