Behind the bench: Our COVID-19 researchers

 

- Ottawa, Ontario

Our world-class researchers are working around the clock to support Canada's response to COVID-19. From research to resource tools, they are proud to be able to make a difference.

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Media Relations, National Research Council of Canada
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Automotive and Surface Transportation

Made-in-Canada N95 Masks Based on Thermoplastic Polymers Manufactured by 3D Printing and Injection Molding

Mihaela Mihai

"N95 masks are an essential and effective personal protective equipment (PPE) used to minimize exposure to the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit us in Canada, we very rapidly encountered a critical shortage of PPE. In response to this situation, the industry was very quick to brainstorm many wonderful and practical ideas to palliate the shortage. Being a researcher in the field of thermoplastic polymers, and having a wide network of partners and collaborators, I knew that the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) could help meet this challenge. With more than 30 years of experience in polymer processing, including in injection moulding and 3D printing, the Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre in Boucherville had key expertise and infrastructures to support businesses like Dorma Filtration, who were working to find solutions to the shortage. By teaming up with the NRC, this Montreal-based company now manufactures and will soon commercialize cost-effective, environmentally friendly and reusable N95 masks that are fully sourced and made in Canada through the use of additive manufacturing and on a larger scale by injection moulding."

Mihaela Mihai, Research officer, Advanced Manufacturing Program, Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre
 

Construction

Collaborating to test N95 respirators: Greg Nilsson

Greg Nilsson

"The Construction Research Centre has partnered with the Metrology Research Centre to test N95 respirators, in support of the federal government's efforts to ensure screening of personal protective equipment. We designed and built a device to test the respirators by using instrumentation that we normally use to measure the concentration of particulate matter in air cleaning tests. We also adapted a construction testing chamber to condition the samples before testing. As a result, we developed a high-production process to mount and condition samples for the N95 respirator tests being conducted at Metrology's labs. It has been a unique experience, to see a group of scientists and engineers who work in a variety of fields coming together to respond to this challenge. What our team has accomplished in such a short time, it really is something remarkable to be a part of."

Greg Nilsson, Sample Preparation Lead, Construction Research Centre
 

Preparing samples for respirator testing: Vicky Wang

Vicky Wang

"I volunteered to prepare samples for the conditioning and testing of N95 respirators, applying knowledge I'd normally use in my job as an instrumentation and data acquisition specialist with the Construction Research Centre. The task is demanding, but it's also very rewarding to know that the work we are doing is helping to protect the lives of Canadians. It is critical to make sure respirators comply with Canadian health and safety requirements to protect those who wear them in the fight against the COVID virus."

Vicky Wang, Technical Officer, Construction Research Centre
 

Design and Fabrication Services

Teamwork is the key: Camile Lebrun

Camille Lebrun

The NRC's Design and Fabrication Services group is proud to have been able to help the researchers at Metrology Research Centre develop new N95 mask testing facilities during the push to supply front-line workers with quality personal protective equipment. We quickly gathered a small team of highly motivated designers and fabricators to build the first N95 mask test chamber in a few days, followed by a second interface component a week later for the newly purchased TSI 8130A testing machine. Drawing on our experienced and skilled staff, while leveraging resources from our flight research lab partner, we've been able to help our team mates in metrology develop processes and systems which are having a direct impact on Canadians. Working as a team, the NRC has successfully stood up a Canadian testing facility in less than a month.

Camile Lebrun - Supervisor of the design group, Design and Fabrication Services
 

Integrating reverse engineering and 3D printing skills and knowledge: Lana Pashkova

Lana Pashkova

"The NRC's Design and Fabrication Services team collaborated with the research community on multiple projects in response to COVID-19. These were challenging projects with a very tight timeline. It was very uplifting and motivating to work as a tightly knit unit in these unprecedented times. The team successfully delivered on its commitments and thus contributed to the collective NRC effort to supply Canada's front-line health workers with safe and effective protective gear. Thanks to the dedicated and supportive guidance from management, I am very proud to belong to such a highly professional and productive group, and I look forward to many more challenges in the field of cutting-edge ideas and technologies."

Lana Pashkova - Surface Modeling Technologist, Design and Fabrication Services
 

Human Health Therapeutics

Leading the charge: Lakshmi Krishnan

Lakshmi Krishnan

"The Human Health Therapeutics Research Centre is working on several fronts to protect the health of Canadians by delivering on priority initiatives under the NRC's COVID-19 response.

We're working to accelerate the development of vaccine candidates, as well as contributing to collaborative efforts to deliver viral isolates, spike proteins, chemical reagents, and tools for diagnostics and testing. We are making a difference and I am confident that our efforts will contribute to tangible solutions for the current pandemic in the near future."

Lakshmi Krishnan, Director General, Human Health Therapeutics Research Centre
 

Connecting COVID-19 researchers and clinicians: Simon Foote

Simon Foote

"I helped develop the COVID-19 Resources Canada portal and launch its reagents database. This portal is an important tool to help researchers and clinicians working on COVID-19 projects in Canada connect with one another and locate the human resources, expertise, and reagents they need to do their work. Collaboration is the key to fighting this pandemic—we're all in this together."

Simon Foote, Bioinformatician, Human Health Therapeutics
 

Reagents for COVID-19 testing: Luke Masson

Luke Masson

"Viral testing requires both enzymatic and chemical reagents to extract the COVID virus from samples and positively identify it. We're experiencing a worldwide shortage of materials used in the extraction and amplification of the COVID RNA (ribonucleic acid) genome for diagnostics.

We are now working on making both the reagents and enzymes that go into the testing kits for coronavirus, and distributing them to provincial public agencies and academia. This will help relieve the current shortage, and prevent such shortages in the future."

Luke Masson, Principal Research Officer, Microbial Fermentation Team
 

Upgrading the NRC's biomanufacturing facility: Frank van Lier

Frank van Lier

"We're working hard on upgrading the NRC's Royalmount facilities in Montréal. The Government of Canada has invested $44 million in funding that will enable us to prepare our facility to produce vaccines for clinical trials, as well as maintain operations and provide new infrastructure to fill and finish individual doses of vaccine as soon as one becomes available.

The exceptional nature of the current circumstances has facilitated strong collaboration with other government agencies and departments, like Health Canada. Thanks to this close collaboration, we can move a lot faster to get everything up and running in record time. In this unique and challenging time, to see that the NRC is stepping up to help is definitely something that we can be proud of."

Frank van Lier, Research and Development Director, Bioprocess Engineering
 

Industrial Research Assistance Program

Decontamination of medical personal protective equipment: John Martinovic

John Martinovic

"The Clēan Flow Healthcare Mini is a device that decontaminates medical personal protective equipment, and has been proven to kill 99.99% of a surrogate for COVID‑19. Our cross-functional team responsible for advancing the Clēan Flow Healthcare Mini project worked diligently over the last couple of weeks to accelerate the regulatory process and move to production. Within a few days, our team helped the firm obtain class 2 medical device certification for its device, and then focussed on a strategy to increase the company's manufacturing capacity from building 3-4 units a week to approximately 25 units a week.

Our work is far from over as we look to evolve the use of the device to further support hospitals and health facilities during this pandemic."

John Martinovic, Industrial Technology Advisor and Subject Expert Team (SET) lead for PPE and hard surface sanitization
 

Medical Devices

On-chip sample preparation for COVID-19 sequencing: Daniel Brassard

Daniel Brassard

"Understanding how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads and evolves is critical to elaborate a better and more targeted response to the COVID-19 pandemic. My team and I are working on a project called 'On-chip sample preparation for COVID-19 sequencing'. Our objective is to facilitate the deployment of a targeted genomic surveillance network of the virus based on genome sequencing technologies. One key challenge remains: the preparation of the clinical samples to rapidly extract the genetic material and prepare a library compatible with genomic sequencing. Currently, this is performed in large, centralized laboratories with an army of trained personnel. The PowerBlade technology, a portable microfluidic platform developed at the NRC, can automate the process to extract and prepare the genetic material. As part of the Pandemic Response Challenge Program, we are developing the hardware, methods, and device architectures to create a novel tool to facilitate research on COVID-19 and prepare our national capacity for a quick, low-cost, reliable and personalized genomic network adapted to the patient's needs."

Daniel Brassard, Team Lead, Microfluidic Systems, Medical Devices Research Centre
 

Innovative technologies to put in the hands of clinicians: Robert DiRaddo

Robert DiRaddo

"The Medical Devices Research Centre plays a critical foundational role in the Pandemic Research Challenge program, advancing science-based innovations that protect the health of Canadians. We are developing ground-breaking diagnostics capabilities for rapid and automated point-of-care testing, as well as, innovative digitally augmented solutions for next-generation virtual care and robust contactless sensing. Our research culture is to develop and deploy technologies to help Canadians stay healthy, now and moving forward."

Robert DiRaddo, Director General, Medical Devices Research Centre
 

Inclusive software for virtual care: Patricia Debergue

Patricia Debergue

"The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the move towards virtual care. As part of the COVID-19 Challenge Program, our team is focussing its research efforts on digital health. We are working on guidelines that will inform the development of digital platforms and functionalities to promote personalization, uptake and accessibility for the most vulnerable. I am proud to be contributing to this work."

Patricia Debergue, Section Head, Simulation and Digital Health, Medical Devices Research Centre
 

Contactless vital sign sensing device, reducing the risk of contagion: Di Jiang

Di Jiang

"Picture a hospital waiting room. From her office, the triage nurse uses the hospital security camera to zoom in on patients. It takes only 10 seconds per individual for the algorithm to analyze the video frames and start to generate vital signs readings, such that COVID-19 suspected cases could be rapidly isolated. My team and I are leading research for a software development tool that can assess a person's physiological vital signs in an unobtrusive manner (no contact). Knowing how easily the virus can spread, developing a tool that prevents physical contacts will certainly help keep both patients and front-line healthcare providers safer."

Di Jiang, Team Lead, Connected Health, Medical Devices Research Centre
 

Guidelines for virtual care software development and adoption: Denis Laroche

Denis Laroche

"The pandemic has raised needs for more use of virtual care in Canada. Healthcare organizations and clinicians are moving at an extremely fast pace to offer a much needed health service to Canadians. However, clinicians and authorities expressed concerns with the ability of virtual care to reach all Canadians, especially vulnerable populations. As part of the Pandemic Response Challenge Program, I am part of the team working on accessibility guidelines for virtual care software development and adoption. These guidelines are meant to facilitate use of virtual care software by elderly, cognitively disabled, and culturally diverse populations. They will entail critical directives for the industry to develop, and for the authorities to adopt them."

Denis Laroche, Team Lead, Biomechatronics, Medical Devices Research Centre
 

Rapid detection of COVID-19 using NRC technology: François Normandin

François Normandin

"We are developing a constellation of our existing technology platform, the PowerBlade, to offer accessible and rapid detection of the COVID-19 and other viruses. For this second-generation technology, we are focussing on a redesign to simplify its use. The result will be a fully automated sample-to-answer system that requires little to no interaction by a user. We are working in partnership with Health Canada and the National Microbiology Laboratory to apply the right design considerations from the start, so that the instrument's hardware and software can achieve certification for use in clinical settings. This portable lab-on-a-chip device can be an essential, rapid, low-cost and reliable tool for detection of viruses during crisis situations, critical to aid our health professional increase the testing capacity. To slow the spread of the novel coronavirus across Canada, early diagnosis and isolation of patients infected with COVID-19 are essential and with the right tools, we can achieve this."

François Normandin, Technical Supervisor, Medical Devices Research Centre
 

Tools for improving mental health: Catherine Proulx

Catherine Proulx

"COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down: within 2 weeks everyone was in lockdown, while uncertainty gave rise to increasing anxiety. As part of the new COVID-19 Challenge Program, I am fortunate to be on the team working to develop a mental health platform that reflects our new reality. We are using the NRC's bWell platform to develop and deliver a host of solutions to clinicians. The initial versions of the application will address issues such as anxiety and isolation. Our challenge is to ensure a high level of accessibility and adaptability for users and practitioners alike."

Catherine Proulx, Research Officer, Medical Devices Research Centre
 

Novel tools for the rapid detection of COVID-19: Teodor Veres

Teodor Veres

"We are facing a worldwide viral pandemic. I have the privilege of leading a team taking on the challenge of developing rapid virus detection and identification technologies to help Canada respond to the evolving situation. As part of the Pandemic Challenge Response program, our team is leading the rapid detection and diagnosis pillar. Our research will integrate molecular science, device technologies and advance data analytics in order to deploy technology on the front line while contributing to the creation of a national capacity for the future."

Teodor Veres, R&D Director, Medical Devices Research Centre
 

Secure self-reliance of COVID-19 test swabs supply in Canada: Alex Ko

Alex Ko

"The NRC is playing a key role in bringing together national stakeholders to address the urgent need to secure the domestic supply of COVID testing swabs that are urgently needed for the health care system during this pandemic. Being appointed a 'SWAB team' member from the NRC's Medical Devices Research Centre, I worked closely with the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Health Canada, the National Microbiology Laboratory, major hospitals, the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program, the NRC's Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre, and most importantly the companies to re-tool their capacity to respond to the Government's call for producing 3D-printed nasopharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 testing. This important task helps to streamline the regulatory approval processes involving testing and product improvement to deliver these new types of swabs to the front line at the most critical time."

Alex Ko, Team Leader, Sensors and Diagnostics, Medical Devices Research Centre
 

Metrology

Addressing the urgent needs of healthcare workers: Joel C. Corbin

Joel C. Corbin

"Canada has been acquiring N95 respirators from new and unknown vendors in order to address the urgent needs of healthcare workers during this pandemic. Our team at the Metrology Research Centre has rapidly developed a system to test these respirators, using techniques we are familiar with from our background in airborne nanoparticle (aerosol) metrology. Our expertise on this topic was previously motivated by the role of aerosols in climate forcing, air pollution, and materials synthesis. This expertise requires a thorough understanding of aerosol transport and filtration, topics which are immediately transferable to virus filtration by respirators like the N95 respirators. In spite of that fact, 6 months ago I would never have guessed that I would find myself contributing to Canada's pandemic response! It has been an honour to contribute and to participate in the respirator-testing team. The speed of this respirator-testing project has been remarkable: the project was on its feet in days instead of months, all that thanks to focussed planning and execution, the support of multiple colleagues in many different ways, and the fact that the team dropped everything to make this a top priority."

Joel C. Corbin, Research Officer, Metrology Research Centre
 

N95 supply chain - thinking outside the box: Richard Green

Richard Green

"Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be tested to ensure safety and efficacy. While Canada relies on approved and trusted PPE suppliers, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated a significant gap in the national capability to perform many of the required tests as we sought to build a supply outside the usual chain. This was most clear in the case of N95 respirators, and the NRC stepped in quickly to partner with the Public Health Agency of Canada to develop test capability to support qualification of imported lots. Going forward, the NRC will have a role in disseminating test capability throughout Canada and building the quality infrastructure to promote its long term viability."

Richard Green, Team Lead, N95 respirator testing, Metrology Research Centre
 

Providing reliable measurements on mask efficiency: Isabelle Rajotte

Isabelle Rajotte

"I have been assisting the Black Carbon Metrology team in the testing of N95 respirators for a collaboration project with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). We are providing PHAC with reliable measurements on mask efficiency in order to have scientific evidence supporting PHAC's decisions to release only qualifying respirators to Canada's essential workers. Since my regular research at the NRC is not focussed on COVID-19 efforts, it feels great to be able to help out during this pandemic. I'm so impressed with how quickly my colleagues have been able to develop and validate a method for respirator testing. Being involved reminds me that I do have an impact on our society and it's rewarding to be part of that collaboration."

Isabelle Rajotte, Technical Officer, Metrology Research Centre