In labs across the globe, scientists are urgently working to assess the threat posed by the Omicron variant, the highly mutated version of the coronavirus recently identified by South African researchers. It was declared a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization and has prompted no small measure of global anxiety.
The same key questions are top of mind for just about everyone right now: Is this latest variant more transmissible? Might it lead to more hospitalizations and deaths? How will the vaccines hold up against it?
In Canada, much of the work answering these pressing questions is being done by a national network led by Dr. Marc-André Langlois, a molecular virologist at uOttawa Faculty of Medicine, and Canada Research Chair in Molecular Virology and Intrinsic Immunity.
Dr. Langlois is the executive director of the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network (CoVaRR-Net), a grouping of top academic researchers in nine interdisciplinary teams. This innovative network he spearheaded is comprised of experts from uOttawa, University of Toronto, McGill, and numerous other Canadian institutions. It was created to provide guidance to Canadian policymakers and help ensure a speedy and coordinated response for better researching and responding to the threat variants pose.
In a Nov. 29 interview, Dr. Langlois said CoVaRR-Net researchers have established their blueprint for how to tackle analysis of the various features of the Omicron variant, including a concerning array of unique mutations on the spike protein. The spike is what the coronavirus uses to bind to human cells.
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