The Short Report - Oct. 7, 2020: Digital health solutions continue to accelerate, U of A prof wins Nobel Prize, and more

Cindy Graham
October 7, 2020


McMaster University has received $4 million from the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force to study the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies among Canadians over 50 years old. Researchers with the McMaster-led Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) will collect and analyze blood samples and questionnaires from more than 19,000 CLSA participants in 10 provinces to determine how widespread the SARS-CoV-2 infection is within this demographic. – McMaster

The University of British Columbia is co-leading an international team that has received a $48-million grant from the US Defence Advanced Research Project Agency to conduct spinal cord injury (SCI) research. The five-year project will use implantable technologies to electrically stimulate the spinal cord and record signals from the brain to drive voluntary movements. Twelve institutions are involved in the project, including UBC and the University of Calgary. – UBC

Glacier FarmMedia (GFM) and Saskatchewan Polytechnic have partnered to come up with economical and sustainable solutions to problems faced by farmers in Western Canada. The applied research collaboration provides Saskatchewan Polytechnic with access to land at GFM’s Discovery Farm for field trials in return for access to equipment and the ability to leverage project funding. The partners also created a new position to coordinate the research projects. The dual position of Applied Research lead at Discovery Farm and Agriculture Research chair at Sask Polytech is held by Blake Weiseth. – SaskPolytech

Toronto-based RetiSpec is partnering with Gentex in Zeeland, MI, to engineer, manufacture and commercialize technology for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. RetiSpec is an artificial intelligence (AI) medical imaging company developing tools for the early detection of disease biomarkers in the eye. Gentex engineers and manufactures electro-optical products for a variety of industries, including automotive, aerospace, fire protection and medical. – CISION


The federal government is spending $10 billion in five priority sectors in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase productivity and create 60,000 jobs. The new Canadian Infrastructure Bank Growth Plan will invest in proven technologies and processes: $2 billion for clean power (e.g., renewable generation and storage); $1.5 billion to improve and expand agricultural irrigation (e.g., precision/smart technology); $2 billion to expand broadband to underserved communities; $1.5 billion for zero-emission buses; and $2 billion for energy-efficient building retrofits (focus on commercial buildings). An additional $500 million will focus on accelerating high-impact infrastructure projects by expediting studies, technical reports and analysis required to shorten paths to construction. – CIB

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving the demand for virtual care and the adoption of digital health technologies. Price Waterhouse Cooper's (PwC) new map of the top 50+ VC-backed digital health companies across the Canadian health ecosystem shows that the life sciences R&D sector is enjoying significant investments. While this sector only has an average company age of 5.9 years, firms in the sector have raised US$ 202.4 million so far in 2020. The digital health market is worth more than $5 billion in Canada. Digital health startups have raised US$17.8 billion this year and spending is expected to more than double by 2030. – PwC

WaitWell in Calgary has launched a new digital health technology tool to ensure physical distancing measures are maintained in waiting areas by using line management software to provide real-time status updates by SMS messaging. The software is designed to eliminate crowded waiting areas and long queue times, which are two factors known to elevate the risk of transmitting COVID-19. – WaitWell


Michael Houghton was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of his discovery of the hepatitis C (HCV) virus. His research, carried out with colleagues Qui-Lim Choo and George Kuo in 1989, led to improved blood safety, hepatitis C treatment and screening tests for blood donations. Houghton was the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Virology at the University of Alberta from 2010-2017. His development of a vaccine for the virus that causes cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease and liver cancer is in the late pre-clinical testing stage.– folio

Dr. Mona Nemer was appointed to a second term as Canada’s Chief Science Advisor (CSA) by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, effective September 25, 2020, for a period of two years. As part of her mandate she continues to advise the federal government on science policy and ensure government science is transparent and accessible to the public. She also continues the task of facilitating science advisor positions across federal organizations and advising the government on its $2.8-billion investment to build science and technology facilities. Prior to becoming CSA, Nemer spent more than 10 years as VP of research at the University of Ottawa and served as the director of its Molecular Genetics and Cardiac Regeneration Laboratory. – GoC

The New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO) has appointed 22 new multi-disciplinary researchers to its first researcher council. Members were chosen from a pool of 700 candidates with various digital research infrastructure backgrounds that comprise advanced research computing, research software and data management. The new council will advise NDRIO on needs assessments and strategic plans to support NDRIO as it delivers its new Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI) strategy for Canada. – NDRIO

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