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ACE May Newsletter - Genomics and Ontario Coalition for COVID-19 Response: A Researcher and Student Perspective

Aug 3, 2021 | Academic Centre of Excellence

Laptop on a table

I (Christina Deroche) had an opportunity to chat with David Villeneuve, Lab Coordinator of the Functional Genomics Lab, here at Canadore, to discuss the important work that he and Tara McGoey have completed for the OnCoV study and coalition.  

ONCoV is a provincial initiative put together under the direction of Ontario Genomics as a rapid response coalition during the earlier stages of the pandemic.  The coalition consisted of many clinical and scientific research partners from Southern Ontario and Canadore College was originally the only Northern participant in the program (Health Sciences North is also now a partner).  Canadore was mentioned to the coalition because of the opening of the Genomics lab and the availability of the sequencing equipment.   

The Coalition is now winding down as Public Health Ontario has designated four centres in Southern Ontario to handle all sequencing of the positive viral samples. The ONCoV coalition was initially put together since there were no processes or infrastructure in place to respond to such a pandemic; this has now evolved, and it will change the structure of clinical labs moving forward to include sequencing operations, such as this. As a result of this initiative, Canadore is recognized as a capable laboratory facility and as an educational and training facility for future lab technicians. Canadore can produce high quality professionals who will need these transferrable skills in order to respond to minor/major pandemics such as COVID-19. The DNA sequencing of the viral samples has been so successful at identifying and monitoring the variants of the coronavirus that this will likely be the new paradigm for all future outbreaks.

Even though the project is winding down, Canadore may still be handling the backlog of previous positive samples for Northern Ontario.  This was also an opportunity to teach our current Functional Genomics and Clinical Consultation students the fundamental principles of viral sequencing using the next-generation sequencing equipment in the Genomics Lab. The samples that we sequence is reported to expert bioinformaticians at McMaster University who handle the processing and reporting of the viral sequences that have been obtained. 

One student from this opportunity, Meg Ablett, discusses her experience in the Lab working and learning alongside Tara, David and other students:

How did you become involved in this project? 
Meg: I was looking for something hands-on to do after I graduated from Nipissing last year and then I found the Functional Genomics program at Canadore. I never would have dreamt that I would get to be involved in this project but through Dave and Tara’s hard work, all FGC students got to do this! 

What kinds of tasks were you assigned to complete in the project? 
Meg: I was assigned a specific sample from an individual that had been collected by the province. I then worked with that sample through the entire procedure. The tasks assigned to me were exactly the same as what a professional would do for the OnCov study (except they would have more samples and more work than me). 

What impact has the project had on your own learning? What were the benefits for you? Were there any challenges? 
Meg: This has been such an incredible learning experience for my peers and I because we were able to get real hands-on lab experience working with top-of-the-line genetics equipment. I have such a wealth of knowledge now that I can use going forward in my future career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The biggest challenge with participating in the OnCov study was that I was so nervous at the beginning about making a mistake and messing up since this work is so relevant and important. 

Is there anything else you would like to say about this opportunity? 
Meg: I would just like to thank Dave, Tara, Kip, and Canadore College for allowing me to have this incredible and exciting experience working with samples of COVID-19. I had so much fun learning and being allowed to learn by doing. I am truly thankful for the experience and look forward to doing more work like this one day. 

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