Kuganya Nirmalarajah, PhD candidate, Temerty Faculty of Medicine

Supervised by Samira Mubareka, Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Venkata R. Duvvuri, Temerty Faculty of Medicine

Project Title: Genomic epidemiology and phylogenomic characterization of viral respiratory pathogens SARS-CoV-2 and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Project Summary: Respiratory diseases caused by viruses can not only place immense strains on healthcare systems but can also spark epidemics, pandemics, and outbreaks. Respiratory viruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can mutate and develop advantageous features that allow them to spread quicker, become more severe, or surpass host immune systems. As a result, it is important to monitor viral genetic changes and its impacts on disease. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is a high throughput technique that is used to determine the genetic sequence of viruses, differentiate between subspecies, and identify mutational changes. Our goal is to leverage the power of WGS to address gaps in combined SARS-CoV-2 genomic and clinical determinants of disease, the lack of RSV genomic surveillance in Canada, and viral epidemiological patterns of RSV post COVID-19. Through doing this investigative work, we will also be developing and deploying a WGS reporting workflow that will allow laboratories and public health units to communicate and strengthen their virus surveillance programs, thereby alleviating the strain that surges place on Canada’s healthcare system. This project aligns with IfP’s pillars of readiness and resilience as we will be directly implementing real-time surveillance, advanced modelling methods, and automated tools to support critical laboratory infrastructures.