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Government of Canada awards $2.5 million to McMaster University to support MHL's COVID-19 Border Study.
McMaster University has been awarded $2.5 million from the Government of Canada to support the McMaster HealthLabs (MHL) Canadian International COVID-19 Surveillance Border Study at Toronto Pearson International Airport, being run in partnership with Air Canada and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).
[ news release ]   [ news release - Government of Canada ]

[ communiqué de presse ]   [ communiqué de presse - le gouvernement du Canada ]
TBD
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In the first month, more than 8,000 passengers have volunteered for the COVID-19 study at Pearson Airport.
Just one month since being launched, more than 8,000 passengers have already been enrolled in the COVID-19 International Border Surveillance Study at Pearson Airport in Toronto. The study is a joint project with Air Canada and McMaster Health Labs.
[ news release ]
Just one month since being launched, more than 8,000 passengers have already been enrolled in the COVID-19 International Border Surveillance Study at Pearson Airport in Toronto. The study is a joint project with Air Canada and McMaster Health Labs.

Co-principal investigators Vivek Goel and Marek Smieja are pleased with the progress to date which demonstrates the feasibility of enrolling passengers at the airport and collecting samples.

While the data analysis will be performed once specified numbers of subjects have completed follow-up testing, an initial examination has been done for quality assurance and for study monitoring purposes. No definitive conclusions can be drawn without greater enrollment and follow-up. Preliminary analyses and results are expected in late October with full analysis continuing into November.

The investigators are committed to open access for the findings of this study and ensuring they are accessible as early as possible, while meeting the requirements for scientific peer review.
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McMaster HealthLabs to Conduct a Voluntary COVID-19 Study of Arriving International Travellers with Support from Air Canada.
McMaster HealthLabs (MHL) and Air Canada have announced that MHL, with resources and support from Air Canada, will undertake a voluntary COVID-19 study of international travellers arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport. The study's core purpose is to gather information to explore the effectiveness of various quarantine periods for travellers.
[ border study ]
TBD
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McMaster HealthLabs adds public health advisor.
Dr. Jack Gauldie, Chair of the Board of MHL, is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Vivek Goel to the new position of Public Health Advisor...
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Dr. Jack Gauldie, Chair of the Board of MHL, is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Vivek Goel to the new position of Public Health Advisor.

Dr. Goel is the former CEO of Public Health Ontario, and most recently was the Vice President of Research and Innovation at the University of Toronto. He also sits on the National Immunity Task Force sponsored by Health Canada and is the COVID-19 Data Champion for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In his new role Dr. Goel will advise MHL regarding emerging policies and procedures, assist with research, provide input on evolving trends in national and international research, and provide advice about how MHL can best support vaccine trials. Dr. Goel will also assist MHL in evaluating and researching new non-PCR testing regimes for surveillance purposes.
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Gold standard COVID-19 testing.
MHL is built on the foundation of its scientific team, which has years of infectious disease academic research experience. This team is at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, having developed two high-quality COVID-19 tests that have been used more than 100,000 times at testing sites in Ontario...
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MHL is built on the foundation of its scientific team, which has years of infectious disease academic research experience. This team is at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, having developed two high-quality COVID-19 tests that have been used more than 100,000 times at testing sites in Ontario.

"We are focused on researching optimal testing solutions and creating high-volume tests that are fast, accurate, and cost-effective," said Marek Smieja, Scientific Director, McMaster HealthLabs.

When the genetic code for the virus was sequenced in January 2020, researchers at The Research Institute of St. Joe's Hamilton went to work to create a made-in-Canada test that could deliver rapid results in as little as three hours.

RSJH can currently run more than 5,000 COVID-19 tests per week, with plans to rapidly increase testing volume to support research in return-to-work strategies.
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McMaster innovations in respiratory illness swabbing.
McMaster HealthLabs benefits from the expertise of world-renowned scientists and researchers who have made significant contributions to advance testing for infectious disease. Dr. Marek Smieja, McMaster HealthLab's Scientific Director, was part of the team that developed the Gold Standard swab for testing respiratory illness.
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McMaster HealthLabs benefits from the expertise of world-renowned scientists and researchers who have made significant contributions to advance testing for infectious disease. Dr. Marek Smieja, McMaster HealthLab's Scientific Director, was part of the team that developed the Gold Standard swab for testing respiratory illness.

The Flocked Swab - COPAN Swab
Gold Standard Test for COVID-19 and Respiratory Illness


The gold standard swab used for testing respiratory illness had its humble beginnings at the labs of at the Research Institute of St. Joe's Hamilton and McMaster University.

In 2006, Dr. Marek Smieja, McMaster HealthLab's Scientific Director, was one of four McMaster researchers who discovered that a flocked swab was better than a rayon swab at collecting respiratory virus samples. The flocked swab is not a typical cotton ear bud swab. Instead, it has various sized tips with short nylon fibers that stick out to collect the virus. The swab is connected to a skinny stick that is inserted through the nose and can extend to one's ear.

The flocked swab collects more cells than a rayon swab - ensuring more rapid and accurate testing - and releases those cells more easily into a transport media, which collects the sample for testing.

The flocked swab - commonly known as the Copan swab after its main manufacturer - is the standard swab for COVID-19 and all respiratory virus collection around the world.

Self-Administered Nasal Swab
Approved by the U.S. FDA for COVID-19 Testing in March 2020


Building on their work to create the flocked swab, McMaster scientists and researchers designed and evaluated a novel swab, with which patients can self-test, without the direct help of medical personnel.

In a study supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, it was determined that nasal self-testing was preferred to staff collection.2

The study found that self-collected flocked nasal swabs were equivalent to staff-collected nasal swabs, and superior to rayon nasal swabs. The swab is described as a "nasal mid-turbinate" because it does not need to extend all the way up into the nose towards the ear to collect a high-quality specimen. Instead, it collects the virus within the mid-nose area, which is why most patients can self-test.

There are many benefits to self-testing, including reducing the risk to doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff from potential exposure to a deadly virus. Self-testing is simple, so it's possible to increase the number of people getting tested, which is particularly helpful during outbreaks.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the McMaster Nasal Mid-Turbinate Flocked Swab for "supervised" self-collection for COVID-19 in March 2020.

  1. Comparison of Flocked and Rayon Swabs for Collection of Respiratory Epithelial Cells from Uninfected Volunteers and Symptomatic Patients. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, June 2006.
  2. Development and Evaluation of a Flocked Nasal Midturbinate Swab for Self-Collection in Respiratory Virus Infection Diagnostic Testing. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, September 2010.

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COVID-19 Innovation: McMaster Molecular Medium (M3) - high volume testing that helps preserve the supply chain.
The only way to keep up with the COVID-19 virus is to test faster than ever before. Global shortages of nasal swabs and other virus testing supplies, including transport media that preserve the integrity of collected samples, challenge these efforts...
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The only way to keep up with the COVID-19 virus is to test faster than ever before. Global shortages of nasal swabs and other virus testing supplies, including transport media that preserve the integrity of collected samples, challenge these efforts.

Stepping up to solve this problem, MHL Research Director Dr. David Bulir created McMaster Molecular Medium (M3) in April 2020. M3 is a temperature-stable storage medium that can maintain coronavirus specimens for up to 14 days, significantly longer than any other transport media. M3 inactivates - kills - the virus so it cannot replicate and potentially infect a lab technician. The genetic material is kept stabilized and ready for testing.

A major innovation of M3 is the ability to pool tests - four samples can be tested together - significantly reducing costs and time to results. One thousand testing runs now handle four thousand individual tests with this high-throughput pooling system. Researchers are working to allow more than four samples to be pooled together. In addition to enabling high-volume testing, M3 also addresses the problem of supply chain shortages, as all components of the medium have stable supply chains.

M3 will be deployed as part of McMaster HealthLabs COVID-19 research testing initiatives to support getting Canadians back to work as quickly as possible.
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Ontario funds research to increase testing capacity and accuracy.
The Government of Ontario is funding research to optimize robotic liquid handling, specimen pooling, and sample preparation to increase testing capacity, speed, and reliability...
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The Government of Ontario is funding research to optimize robotic liquid handling, specimen pooling, and sample preparation to increase testing capacity, speed, and reliability.

This project will increase Ontario's COVID-19 testing capacity and accuracy, while reducing biological risks. The Disease Diagnostics & Development Group in the Research Institute of St. Joe's Hamilton is collaborating with clinical laboratories across the province to quickly develop, validate, and deliver high-throughput COVID-19 testing, with the goal of testing up to 6,000 samples per lab daily.
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