Assistant Professor Keith Pardee Receives CIHR-IDRC Funding for Zika Virus Research

Assistant Professor Keith Pardee of the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy is a principal investigator on one of three research teams to receive funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the International Development Research Centre to help address unanswered questions about the Zika virus.

The CIHR-IDRC Canada-Latin America and Caribbean Zika Virus Research Program was designed to support research investment in areas where new knowledge on the Zika virus will help develop diagnostics for infection, understand the pathology of the virus, and, ultimately, prevent its transmission and morbidity.

Through this project, Dr. Pardee and team will test a new, low-cost tool to rapidly detect the presence of the Zika virus in patients’ bodily fluids. This innovative new diagnostic tool is designed for use in remote, under-resourced locations, and will be field tested in Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador.

This ambitious multi-institutional project brings together researchers from nine laboratories in five countries, including Dr. Aaron Wheeler from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto, who is a pioneer the field of digital microfluidics and will be developing the digital microfluidics required for this project, and Dr. Alex Green from Arizona State University and Dr. Jim Collins from MIT and the Wyss Institute at Harvard, who will contribute to the synthetic biology efforts of the program. “Development and Deployment of Low Cost, Paper-based Zika Diagnostics” also includes researchers from South America, including co-Principal Investigators Dr. Jaime E. Castellanos from the Universidad El Bosque in Colombia, Dr. Varsovia E. Cevallos from Public Health of Ecuador in Ecuador, and Dr. Lindomar Pena of the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz – FIOCRUZ in Brazilestigators, and co-Investigators Dr. Constancia F. Ayres from the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz – FIOCRUZ in Brazil, and Dr. Eduardo T. Jurado from Public Health of Ecuador, in Ecuador

In extending the freeze-dried biomolecular diagnostic platform technology reported last May by Dr. Pardee and colleagues to the outbreak region, the multidisciplinary team hopes to adapt their existing technologies in three key areas. First, they plan to develop faster Zika virus sensors and a sensor that can detect the single-base differences between strains of the virus. They will also develop a low-cost digital microfluidics platform to handle and prepare samples upstream of the molecular diagnosis, which will provide the portable, laboratory-grade tools needed for diagnostics in remote and low-resource environments. Finally, they will collaborate with national laboratories to deploy these technologies in outbreak regions for testing with diagnostic and mosquito surveillance networks.

Ultimately, through these efforts, the team hopes to leverage their research to help slow the spread of the Zika virus outbreak and improve health globally.