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UNB mathematicians join research project tackling COVID-19

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Mar 31, 2020

Category: UNB Fredericton , myUNB

Dr. Sanjeev Seahra and Dr. James Watmough

Two professors from the University of New Brunswick are part of a multi-institutional research project whose work will contribute to the global understanding of COVID-19.

Mathematics professor Dr. James Watmough and Dr. Sanjeev Seahra, professor and chair of UNB Fredericton’s department of mathematics and statistics, have joined the Canadian COVID-19 Math Modelling Task Force. This task force is made up of a team of international experts who are working to develop mathematical technologies to aid in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The research will mobilize a national network of infectious disease multi-scale modellers to assess the transmission risk of COVID-19 and project outbreak trajectories. This will enable them to evaluate public health interventions for outbreak prevention and control, while informing public health policymakers in the development of effective treatment strategies.

The project is a collaboration between Canada’s Mathematical Sciences Institutes, led by the Fields Institute in Ontario and including the Atlantic Association for Research in the Mathematical Sciences, the latter of which Dr. Seahra serves in as director. The project has received a two-year $666,667 grant through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Canadian 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rapid Research Funding Opportunity.

“The objective of the CIHR-funded project centres on control of the spread of the infection through and between communities,” says Dr. Watmough. “Obvious short term objectives are understanding the main means of spread and the effectiveness of various strategies, such as school closures and physical distancing, in reducing the peak demand on our health care system.

“We will also be modelling treatment of individuals, what we call in-host modelling, to understand the disease and how treatment works. The holy grail of this project would be to test proposed treatments on simulated people. This is still a long way off, but we can use modelling to get more information out of trials.”

“The main goal of this research is to help public health authorities make informed decisions about how to manage the COVID-19 outbreak,” says Dr. Seahra. “Governments will have to make many hard decisions about how to combat this virus, and we would like to help them in any way we can. We will also be learning as much as we can about this emergency to ensure we are better prepared for future pandemics in Atlantic Canada.”

Within the province, the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation is providing support for the project. Other partner institutions across the country taking part in the research include the Centre de Recherches Mathématiques and the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences, in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre and the National Research Council.

“It’s important to have local expertise analyzing how the virus is spreading in New Brunswick and the other Atlantic provinces,” says Dr. Seahra. “It is clear that the epidemic has different rates of spread in different parts of the world, so we cannot rely on models developed for other jurisdictions.”

Media contact: Fiona Hendrie