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Joining forces for innovative technology solutions to COVID-19

Queen’s researchers are partnering with industry to transform decision-making and healthcare through two Digital Technology Supercluster projects

[Logo: Digital Technology Superclusters]

 

In response to COVID-19 many Queen’s researchers have been building on their industry partnerships to help rapidly pivot and mobilize their research to address some of the many complex problems posed by the pandemic. Many collaborations have been formed to help not only respond to immediate issues, but to also look to the future as we assess the crisis’s impact throughout society.

Digital Technology Supercluster

What is the Supercluster Initiative?
Announced in 2017 by Minister Navdeep Bains, superclusters are high-tech collaborations led by industry with academic institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and companies of all sizes working together to spur innovation and job creation around certain broad themes. Supported by a $950 million federal investment and located across Canada, five superclusters have been created to support advancements for oceans, AI, advanced manufacturing, protein industries, and digital technology. Learn more.

Two such projects that include partnerships with Queen’s, focused on predictive modelling and cancer testing and treatment, have received more than $4 million in funding through the Digital Technology Supercluster’s COVID-19 program. Part of the federal government’s Innovation Superclusters Initiative, the Digital Technology Supercluster fosters collaborations in healthcare, communications, natural resources, and transportation to support ambitious, solutions-oriented technology development projects that position Canada as a digital innovation leader. In response to COVID-19, the Supercluster developed a specific program with $60 million in funding to address digital transformation in the Canadian healthcare system. Both funded projects in which Queen’s is involved address the urgent needs to combat COVID-19, while also establishing infrastructure for future sector innovations.

Innovating the response to COVID-19

The Looking Glass: Protecting Canadians in a Return to Community project led by Kings Distributed Systems (KDS) will use predictive modelling to build a platform that will help decision-makers determine the impact that a proposed policy will have on public health and the economy. In addition to Queen’s researchers Troy Day and Felicia Magpantay (Mathematics), who will contribute leading epidemiological models, several of the project’s industry partners have participated in programs and received services from Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI). Through the formation of this project and past opportunities, QPI has supported some of the affiliated industry partners, such as Limestone Analytics, led by Queen’s professor Bahman Kashi (Economics), and the project lead, KDS, with mentorship, incubation space, and/or connections to resources, including the facilitation of a pilot project with Queen’s Centre for Advanced Computing, and receptors such as the Eastern Ontario Leadership Council and the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, industry partner aiSight through its founder Keyana Yeatman, ArtSci’20, has received support via the QPI WE-CAN Project and participated in the DDQIC QICSI program. With partners and contributors from a range of institutions and industry across Canada, this diverse collaboration will develop Looking Glass into a powerful tool to forecast not only COVID-19 infection rates from actions such as re-opening schools, but also other critical public health issues like vaccination campaigns and managing tick-borne diseases.

Project ACTT – Access to Cancer Testing & Treatment in Response to COVID-19 led by Canexia Health is focused on expanding access to minimally-invasive biopsies for patients with metastatic lung, breast, or colorectal cancer in response to surgery backlogs resulting from COVID-19. Principal Investigator for the project is Queen’s researcher Harriet Feilotter (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and member of the Division of Cancer Biology and Genetics at Queen’s Cancer Research Institute. By testing circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) with technology that includes machine learning and AI for analysis, Project ACTT will detect fragments of cancer tumour DNA from just a patient blood sample. This project will also enable detection of a broader range of cancer types, along with targeted treatment matching, and almost double the reach of Canadian cancer patients each year. Not only is this new rapid test a less invasive method than surgical tissue biopsies, it also provides a remote delivery solution for cancer biopsies that minimizes exposure to COVID-19 in hospitals for high-risk individuals. As the project develops, they hope to make it possible to conduct these biopsies more efficiently within Canadian hospitals and labs and provide solutions for cancer testing in rural and remote areas.

"The Superclusters initiative demonstrates what we can do when we harness the collective strengths of industry, academia, and research," says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). "Queen’s is a key partner in helping to grow these companies and collaborations, in the case of the Looking Glass project in particular, and providing vital expertise that will help in our national efforts to combat COVID-19 through strength in digital technology."

For more information on these and other COVID-19 Program projects, visit the Digital Technology Supercluster website. In addition, to learn more about how Queen’s researchers are combating COVID-19, explore the Confronting COVID-19 series.