Renowned researcher joins USask VIDO lab to study coronaviruses

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WATCH: A new researcher at the University of Saskatchewan is studying the deadly coronavirus and other viruses that could cause other health crises – Jun 6, 2021

A renowned virus researcher has joined the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO).

Angela Rasmussen — who is still affiliated with Georgetown University and who is formerly of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health — studies how viruses interact with their host. It’s research she said will help to understand and end the current pandemic and prepare for future health crises.

“My goal is to develop new models of SARS-coronavirus-2 specifically using mice to understand how the virus causes disease by modulating a response to infection,” she said, using the formal name of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Read more: Saskatchewan researchers investigate long-term health effects of COVID-19

She told Global News she will study several variants and what makes them different in terms of transmissibility or their ability to evade immune responses — that is, once her lab is set up.

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She started at VIDO on May 3 and, once she’s set up her lab and completed her orientation at the new facility, said she will be working on SARS-CoV-2, as well as on the viruses that cause Ebola, dengue fever and several influenza strains.

She said she’s excited to join VIDO ahead of the lab building new research facilities, after the federal and provincial governments promised millions of dollars in funding for research on animal pathogens and a new containment facility.

“VIDO… is starting a pandemic research center and really has, I think, global ambitions to become a world-class center for doing virus research,” she said.

“So I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.”

Originally from Seattle, she said Canada and the world need to boost its ability to produce vaccines, that it’s “absolutely crucial for preparedness, for pandemics and epidemics in the future.”

The current pandemic’s grip on Canada may be months away from ending, with many people getting vaccinated across the country, but Rasmussen warned it won’t truly end until enough people get vaccinated.

“When we see these global disparities become more glaringly apparent and people in the country that don’t have access to those vaccines, we will see case numbers rise,” she said.

Read more: Budget 2021: VIDO in Saskatoon poised to become ‘Canada’s centre for pandemic research’

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“So it really is an obligation of high-income countries, the US, Canada, the European Union and the U.K., once they do get their populations vaccinated… to make sure that they’re sharing doses with the rest of the world.”

She also warned about the costs of misinformation, which she said can be deadly, noting that several people needed hospitalization after former U.S. President Donald Trump suggested injecting or ingesting bleach could cure COVID-19.

“When people rely on unproven treatments, when people push back against public health orders that are intended to keep everybody safe… there’s a cost that is measured in human lives,” she said.

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