Stem Cell Network Announces $675,000 for Three Canadian-led COVID-19 Research Projects

April 23, 2020 (Ottawa) – The Stem Cell Network (SCN), Canada’s national leader in stem cell and regenerative medicine research, announced today the funding of three new research projects that will contribute to the global response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, as part of the Government of Canada’s support of a national medical and research strategy to fight COVID-19.

SCN has committed $675,870 for the projects, that collectively have more than $778,000 in partner funding, a figure that is expected to increase in the coming days/weeks.

The projects, which include one clinical trial and two research projects, are part of SCN’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Initiative that was launched on April 1, 2020. The fast-tracked funding initiative sought stem cell-based approaches from across the country and is a clear demonstration of how nimble and effective an on-the-ground scientific network can be. A total of 22 applications were received, and following peer review, three projects were recommended for funding for a one-year period ending April 2021. Two of the projects are being led at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and one at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

“This initiative highlights the collaborative nature of SCN’s research community in coming together so quickly to respond, and further exemplifies a keen desire to help the world emerge from this pandemic. Canada should be proud of this community, which is keeping us at the forefront of global efforts,” said Dr. Michael Rudnicki, SCN’s CEO & Scientific Director. “The quality of the funded projects is extremely high and SCN anticipates that the results from this research will advance our search for a therapy and greatly enhance our understanding of the virus.”

SCN’s Board of Directors were impressed by the number of applications received and the quality of the applications recommended for funding. As such, the Board decided to increase the original funding envelope by $175,000. A key requirement for funding is that projects be able to start by mid-May, as the world races to better understand and respond to COVID-19.

The three projects are:

  • Cellular Immuno-Therapy for COVID-19 induced Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: the CIRCA-19 Trial. An experienced team of multidisciplinary experts will deliver this clinical trial, which will verify optimal dose and safety of mesenchymal cells (a broad category of cells that have been shown to improve immune response and calm inflammation) as a therapy to reduce the impacts of acute respiratory distress associated with COVID-19. This clinical trial expects to enrol up to 27 patients in three stages.
    Project leader: Dr. Duncan Stewart, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI).
    SCN award value: $300,000

  • Identifying and targeting pulmonary and immune mechanisms in COVID-19 using human stem cell derived lineages. This research project will use human tissue models to investigate how the cells that line the lungs and airway become infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how the behaviour of these cells changes once they are infected. The team will also use these respiratory cells to screen a library of drugs for their ability to reduce disease severity.
    Project leader: Dr. William Stanford, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. Co-investigator: Dr. Amy Wong, The Hospital for Sick Children.
    SCN award value: $195,870

  • Investigating the role of inflammatory responses in neurological effects of COVID-19, using patient-derived stem cell models. In response to evidence that many COVID-19 patients report sensory symptoms, such as loss of smell and taste, visual disturbances and headaches, this project seeks to understand which types of human brain cells can be infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, how these cells respond once infected, and then identify which genes control brain cell infection and response.
    Project leader: Dr. Julien Muffat, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). Co-investigator: Dr. Yun Li (SickKids).
    SCN award value: $180,000

The Stem Cell Network also recently announced other initiatives in response to COVID-19, among them a statement against the marketing of unproven stem cell therapies to treat COVID-19, and a deadline extension for applications to its Round 2 Research Funding Program. In March of this year, SCN announced results of its Round 1 Research Funding Program, valued at $6.9 million, made possible through the support of the Government of Canada.


About the Stem Cell Network
Tomorrow’s health is here. The Stem Cell Network (SCN) is a national non-profit that supports stem cell and regenerative medicine research, training the next generation of highly qualified personnel, and delivering outreach activities across Canada. SCN’s goal is to advance science from the lab to the clinic for the benefit of Canadians. SCN has been supported by the Government of Canada since inception in 2001. This strategic funding, valued at $118M, has benefitted approximately 170 world-class research groups and 3,000 trainees and has catalyzed 24 clinical trials. stemcellnetwork.ca 

Media contact:
Lisa Willemse
Director, Communications & Public Affairs