University of Windsor joins research group on tackling future pandemics

The University of Windsor is part of a new research group aimed at pandemics. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)
The University of Windsor is part of a new research group aimed at pandemics. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)

Like many, Kenneth Ng has questions like what if, or what can be done differently, when it comes to COVID-19 or pandemics that may come in the future.

Now the professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and others at the University of Windsor will have the opportunity to research those answers. And if another pandemic does come along, hopefully a new biomedical research hub can help with those questions.

"I think it's a pretty big initiative," Ng said. "Windsor is one part of a bigger thing, so I think this is just the start of it. It's a good commitment from the government to do something about future problems like the pandemic."

The University of Windsor is a major partner in the University of Toronto-led hub called the Canadian Hub for Health Intelligence & Innovation in Infectious Diseases (HI3). The new national hub's main focus is on enhancing Canada's ability to respond more effectively and quicker to future pandemics.

On March 2, the federal government announced an investment of $10 million in support of the creation of five research hubs across Canada, which included UWindsor, with support from the Canada Biomedical Research Fund.

"This is something that we can use to help prepare for future problems," Ng said. "It's exciting to hear that there is money being put into it so we can continue that work."

Ng said one of the big focuses that he and the UWindsor team will focus on is the border.

"The work we've been doing in Windsor is mainly about detection," Ng said. "That's related to the fact we are near the border. It's something we're interested in. You know, when they shut down the border, there were a lot of problems for the region and the country. We have been focusing our attention on that. I think that's what makes Windsor so special.  Not everyone sees the importance of the border."

He said the surveillance component is important at the border, especially when it comes to future pathogens and avoiding problems like shutting down the border.

"Not that it was the wrong decision," Ng said. "If they had better information and better surveillance, they would've been able to know better whether they really needed to shut down the border, or who to restrict. Maybe instead, restricting people who are infected and restricting people who may be at higher risk of carrying infection instead of preventing everyone."

The UWindsor researchers include: Ng and Yufeng Tong from chemistry and biochemistry, Kendall Soucie from psychology, Pooya Moradian Zadeh from computer science, Arezoo Emadi from engineering, Mike McKay from the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, and Lisa Porter from biomedical sciences and the WE-SPARK Health Institute.

Co-directors Jen Gommerman and Scott Gray-Owen lead the U of T hub.

"While it's human nature to be reactive, we must strive to be proactive to prevent and limit the impact of future pandemics," Gommerman said in a U of T release. "We need an approach that centres on co-operation, unity, a pooling of resources, a free and open sharing of data and a commitment to serve those most at risk — this is the Canadian way."