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Viral Weather: Identifying viruses and the hunt for treatments

Thursday, May 21st 2020, 6:51 pm - The Weather Network's Chris St. Clair and Rachel Schoutsen met with experts to discuss the effects of the global pandemic and what scientists are doing to develop a treatment.

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has changed the way we live.

Schools are closed, sports franchises have been shuttered, and face masks are becoming the norm.

As many as 5 million more Canadians are now working at home in response to the pandemic, with some businesses announcing the shift will be permanent or will remain in place until a vaccine is developed.

Learning about the nature of the virus and developing treatment is the focus of the latest edition of Viral Weather, which is airing on all Weather Network platforms.

Read more about the episode here.

THE FIRST STEP TOWARD FINDING A CURE

The first step in finding a cure is isolating the virus -- a development that was achieved by a team of Canadian researchers in March.

The southern Ontario-based group, comprised of specialists from Sunnybrook, McMaster University, and the University of Toronto isolated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the agent responsible for the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19, providing researchers worldwide with information that will help them to develop better diagnostic testing, treatments, and vaccines, and gain a better understanding of a virus that has brought the modern world to a standstill.


Go HERE for our complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic


Roderick Slavcev, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Waterloo, says the achievement was a "critical" first step.

"We have to know what we're dealing with first, and you can't really design a vaccine against something if you don't know what it is," he says.

"[With] viruses, there's the potential for a change in genetic material all the time," he explains.

There are viruses that infect animals and viruses that infect animals, but "there's the potential for a jump to occur," Slavcev says.

If that occurs, "you have a virus that has the potential to infect not only an animal but a human as well ... as a result, you have the ability for a new virus to start expanding within the human population."

GettyImages-1096502334 - scientist Isolating the virus is a critical step toward understanding it. File photo: Getty Images.

DEVELOPING A TREATMENT

Scientists around the world are racing to understand and contain COVID-19.

At the University of Waterloo, Slavcev and his team are developing a nasal spray that may be used to treat the virus.

The potential vaccine will work by using a process that allows the vaccine to stimulate an immune response in the nasal cavity, targeting tissues in the lower respiratory tract.

“When complete, our DNA-based vaccine will be administered non-invasively as a nasal spray that delivers nanomedicine engineered to immunize and decrease COVID-19 infections,” Slavcev says.

“This research combines the expertise of many and leverages existing technology developed by my team, which we’re reconfiguring for a COVID-19 application.”

WATCH THE FULL VIRAL WEATHER EPISODE BELOW:

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