Mike McKay working in labMike McKay, executive director of the Great Lake Institute for Environmental Research, is leading a research team using sewage as an early warning system to determine trends in COVID-19 infection rates.

UWindsor COVID research gets $300,000 funding boost

A team of UWindsor scientists testing sewage as an early warning system for the community spread of COVID-19 has received a huge federal funding boost.

Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Thursday announced $300,000 in funding to the team led by UWindsor’s Mike McKay. The money comes from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) which is directing a special fund of $28 million for equipment needed for research related to COVID-19. Dr. McKay’s project, in conjunction with fellow UWindsor researchers Daniel Heath, Lisa Porter, Rajesh Seth, and Christopher Weisener, is one of 79 across the country to receive money from the fund.

“The investment from CFI builds capacity in our surveillance program that will position us to more quickly inform public health units on community infections revealed from wastewater,” said McKay, executive director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. “The infrastructure supported by this award will also be an important element to advance screening efforts on campus to facilitate an eventual return to face-to-face instruction at UWindsor.”

The virus responsible for COVID-19 is shed in fecal matter. Early into the pandemic, McKay recognized you can determine trends in the infection rates in a given community by detecting the presence of the virus’s genetic signature in the sewage entering wastewater treatment plants.

“An alternative to testing individuals lies literally beneath our feet in our municipal sewer systems,” McKay explained. “A 24-hour composite sample of raw sewage represents the fecal discharge of the entire community served by the plant, effectively providing a community-wide swab.”

Staff at sewage treatment plants regularly collect samples of wastewater entering and leaving their facilities as part of regulatory compliance and process testing. McKay’s team is gathering those samples from plants in Windsor, Lakeshore, Amherstburg, and London and analyzing them for the presence of the virus’s RNA.

He is also working with scientists across Ontario coordinated through the Canadian Water Network’s COVID-19 Wastewater Coalition doing similar research.

McKay called the testing a “robust tool” epidemiologists could use to track community health in future pandemics beyond COVID-19.

Thursday’s funding announcement stressed how scientific research like that being carried out at UWindsor can be used to inform decision making during the pandemic, said K.W. Michael Siu, UWindsor’s vice-president, research and innovation.

The research infrastructure funded by CFI will significantly extend the University’s capacity to detect and track the presence of COVID-19 in the Windsor-Essex community,” said Dr. Siu. “Sewage testing may serve as the canary in the coal mine for the COVID-19 pandemic.”

An environmental microbiologist who specializes in algal blooms, McKay pivoted with his team to COVID-research when the pandemic struck.

“Canadian researchers’ immediate response to the pandemic has demonstrated the research community’s crucial role in helping to resolve this crisis,” said Roseann O’Reilly Runte, CFI president and CEO.

“The CFI is proud to support their efforts by equipping them with the research infrastructure they need to further their significant work.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Patrick Kolowicz, Edward Cruz, Jennifer Voth, Clementa StanThe Caring for the Caregiver study team, from left: Patrick Kolowicz, HDGH director of mental health and addictions; UWindsor nursing professor Edward Cruz; HDGH research associate Jennifer Voth; Clementa Stan, member of the Mental Health and Addictions Patient and Family Advisory Council.

University and Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare partner on study of caring for caregivers

Caregivers are vital partners in the recovery journeys of loved ones who are living with mental illness. They provide emotional, social, and material support, which often includes navigating and advocating for services. Canada’s healthcare system is increasingly reliant on informal or voluntary caregivers to support their loved ones with chronic or persistent mental illness.

Faculty of Nursing assistant professor Edward Cruz is the principal investigator on a study aimed at understanding the needs of caregivers to adults living with mental illness in Windsor-Essex. Dr. Cruz, along with Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare research associate Jennifer Voth, will conduct a community needs assessment focused on this caregiver group.

“Family members, as informal caregivers, play a significant role in the continuum of care for persons living with mental illness,” Cruz says. “All too often, they do not get the supports they need to keep up with their caregiving role.”

The Caring for the Caregiver study is part of a project that started out of Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare’s Mental Health and Addictions Patient and Family Advisory Council.

“The idea originated pre-COVID to host a Caring for the Caregiver conference focused on wellness, education, and connections,” says Clementa Stan, a member of the council.

The in-person conference had to be postponed due to the pandemic, which freed up time to explore the experiences of caregivers. The idea is to understand the supports needed for them to care for their loved ones without damaging their own health or wellbeing, Stan says: “Caregivers experience increased levels of stress and burnout.”

Caregivers to adults with mental illness or addiction challenges are often an invisible group, says Patrick Kolowicz, HDGH director of mental health and addictions and the council’s chair.

“Most caregivers are not trained mental health professionals, yet their role can mean helping their loved one in crisis, with symptom and medication management and navigating a complex healthcare, social services, and housing system,” he says. “In many ways, our mental health and addiction system is reliant on caregivers.”

The study involves five data collection points, three of which will launch this month. Caregivers are invited to complete a 20-minute online survey that can be accessed here.

This study has received clearance from the University of Windsor Research Ethics Board.

Face mask bearing UWindsor logoThe University of Windsor is reminding its campus community to strictly adhere to COVID-19 prevention protocols.

University sends strong social distancing reminder

The University of Windsor is reminding its campus community to restrict social gatherings and strictly adhere to COVID-19 prevention protocols following additional information it received today from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

The WECHU has advised that an unauthorized Halloween gathering of students is currently being investigated and emphasizes the importance of students following health unit and student residence regulations around social gatherings. The University is working closely with the WECHU on this matter and will provide more information as it becomes available.

Additionally, the University has learned from Windsor Regional Hospital that four Faculty of Nursing students who were completing clinical placements have tested positive for COVID-19. The hospital has confirmed that the students did not contract the virus from within the hospital setting. The University is working closely with the hospital, which will issue its own media release.

“This is a strong reminder to our student community that we cannot become complacent with our protocols and guidelines during this pandemic,” said University of Windsor president Rob Gordon. “There is simply too much at stake and we need to be stringent now more than ever.

“We all need to be responsible and consider how our behaviour today may affect our friends, family, and members of the larger community tomorrow.”

The University of Windsor is currently following a remote learning model with most classes being held online this semester. Students, staff, and faculty are reminded to practice good hygiene; wear a mask; keep 2m from others when possible; and complete a self-assessment questionnaire prior to attending campus, available at: www.uwindsor.ca/returntocampus/336/before-going-to-campus.

Updates will be provided at: www.uwindsor.ca/returntocampus.

The University’s response to confirmed cases of COVID-19 can be found here: https://www.uwindsor.ca/returntocampus/354/confirmed-case-covid-19-campus.
Dennis FairallRetired track and field coach Dennis Fairall died Friday, Nov. 6, following a long illness.

Lancer family mourns death of legendary coach Dennis Fairall

The University of Windsor is mourning retired track and field coach Dennis Fairall, who died Friday, Nov. 6, at 67 following a long illness.

Fairall, who joined the University of Windsor in 1985, was one of the most decorated coaches in Canadian university history. National and provincial sporting bodies named him coach of the year in either track and field or cross country 65 times. In February 2016, the St. Denis Centre Fieldhouse was re-named the Dennis Fairall Fieldhouse in his honour.

“Even prior to starting my role as University of Windsor president, I followed and admired the illustrious and decorated career of Dennis Fairall,” said UWindsor president Robert Gordon. “His reputation as a coach, mentor, educator, and genuine leader is legendary.”

In 28 seasons with the Lancers, Fairall's teams won 25 Canadian university cross country and track and field championships, as well as 46 Ontario championships, though he was equally admired for his character and contributions off the track.

”Dennis had an extraordinary impact on the lives of student-athletes that will withstand the test of time,” Dr. Gordon said. “My condolences go out to his wife Janet and family. Dennis will be deeply missed, but his impact will be infinitely embedded in the blue and gold Lancer spirit.”

woman holding booksThe Student Life Enhancement Fund supports special projects, activities, and events outside of the classroom.

Funding to support student co-curricular activities

The Student Life Enhancement Fund (SLEF), a year-round funding program, was established to support co-curricular activities outside of the classroom that enhance student engagement and the student experience.

The fund supports special projects, activities, and events, and is open to all University of Windsor students, recognized student groups, and clubs.

“Although this year might look different than years past, we know that students are still involved in co-curricular activities,” said Ryan Flannagan, associate vice president student experience. “By financially supporting our students outside of the classroom, we can both alleviate financial burden and improve student experience and engagement across our campus.”

There are four funding levels available to students within the SLEF:

  • Individual student sponsorship requests (up to $250)
  • Social events (up to $500)
  • Group or club sponsorship (up to $1,000)
  • Unique initiatives with significant university-wide impact may be considered for funding beyond these levels

Instructions for how to apply can be found on the Student Life Enhancement Fund website. Questions about the fund can be directed to studentexperience@uwindsor.ca.

—Sarah Hébert

Proteus logoA webinar Nov. 19 will introduce the Proteus reverse business pitch competition.

Chemistry invention part of Southwestern Ontario Innovation Competition

The University of Windsor is collaborating for the third year with Western University and McMaster University, now joined by the University of Waterloo, University of Guelph, and Wilfrid Laurier University on the Proteus Innovation Competition.

The reverse business pitch competition challenges participants to create a commercialization plan for one of six technologies developed by these research institutions. Successful teams have the chance to win one of six $5,000 prizes and to be involved in the further commercialization of the technology, including a possible spin-off company.

This year the University of Windsor has put forward biochemistry professor John Trant’s patented technology, “Streamlined Method for Forming Multiple Disulfide Bonds in a Peptide.”

Dr. Trant’s invention produces biologically-active peptides that can be used to develop pain-management therapeutics, which were previously costly to produce and involved many complicated synthesis steps. This technology overcomes these challenges by using heat-based technology to control peptide formation and ultimately provides a cheaper and simpler solution to forming complex cysteine bridges during peptide synthesis.

Students from all faculties are encouraged to register and submit their business plans for any of the six technologies available as part of the competition.

Learn more about the competition and technologies at the Proteus launch, a live Zoom webinar from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19. Register by Wednesday, Nov. 18.

For more information, visit www.proteusic.com or contact Windsor lead Tina Suntres at Tina.Suntres@uwindsor.ca.

—Tina Suntres

United Way flag flapping outside Chrysler Hall TowerThe campus campaign for United Way is distributing pledge forms to UWindsor faculty and staff.

Campaign calling for support for United Way

This year, COVID-19 has created some unprecedented challenges for our community, says Andrew Bothamley, vice-president finance for the Windsor-Essex United Way.

“Our most vulnerable residents were pushed to their limits and beyond,” he says. “United Way worked in collaboration with community partners to respond to the increased demand for supports and services.”

The charity established a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to meet the needs of local residents, including food security and mental health supports.

“As we move forward this year, United Way will continue to support our community’s recovery by putting your donations to work in the most effective way possible, when and where they’re needed the most,” Bothamley says.

That need has Sheri Lowrie, co-chair of the campus campaign in support of United Way, issuing an appeal to colleagues.

“Let’s show that in times of emergency and uncertainty, we as a campus community can rise together and support Windsor-Essex County,” says Lowrie. “The University of Windsor is a driving force in our community and our community can’t recover without our support.”

She asks staff and faculty to watch for a soliciation in their email inboxes in the form of an electronic pledge form from her or the United Way, and to contribute if they are able.