Digital Technology Supercluster funds UVic COVID-19 research


UVic biochemistry professor Martin Boulanger is part of a project funded by the Digital Technology Supercluster. (Credit: UVic Photo Services)

Whether using artificial intelligence to fast-track antibody development to treat COVID-19 or striving to keep home-care patients and caregivers safe, two University of Victoria research projects funded by the Digital Technology Supercluster will contribute to finding solutions to the pandemic. 

The Vancouver-based Digital Technology Supercluster COVID-19 program announced on Tuesday includes a growing suite of projects offering solutions to urgent health care needs across Canada arising from the coronavirus. 

The tech consortium is investing a previously announced $60 million to work with Canadian companies, post-secondary institutions and not-for-profit organizations to improve the health and safety of Canadians by supporting Canada’s commitment to address the COVID-19 outbreak while building expertise and capacity to respond to future urgent situations. 

“The pandemic has affected how we live, work and interact in our communities. We may not be able to change what is going on around us, but we can control how we react to it,” says Lisa Kalynchuk, UVic’s vice-president of research. “I am proud that UVic researchers are finding solutions that can potentially help our province and country emerge from the current situation with new knowledge that benefits society.” 

The UVic projects include: 

Antibody design using artificial intelligence (AI) 

The project will use AI to fast-track the complex task of developing antibodies required for a vaccine and effective treatments for COVID-19. Working with project partners Variational AI and Zymeworks, a global leader in the design of antibodies, the artificial intelligence-powered platform will help identify new treatments to protect Canadians against COVID-19 and other disease, saving time and money. 

“Using a technique known as X-ray crystallography, our research team will generate 3D maps of the computer-designed antibodies,” says Martin Boulanger, a biochemistry professor at UVic. 

“In some ways this process can be considered a form of cartography where mapping the surface of a protein is similar to mapping landscape topography. The final map will provide valuable insights into the computer models and how well the custom-designed antibodies can be used to treat COVID-19 and other serious diseases.” 

Providing safe, effective home care during COVID-19 

Home-care patients and their caregivers are at risk of being in the next wave of COVID-19 victims. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 within this vulnerable population is essential to reduce hospitalizations and prevent strain on the healthcare system. 

With contributions from UVic, the project will significantly increase the functionality of an existing digital toolkit used by company lead AlayaCare, and accelerate the ability to deliver the COVID-19 specific functions including alerting service providers in real-time about symptomatic employees or patients. 

Read the Digital Technology Supercluster news release here.

View the list of projects here.

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Keywords: research, funding, COVID, health, RPKM, computer science

People: Martin Boulanger, Miguel Nacenta

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