SERV operates through three main streams of research: virus biology (genomics), vaccines and therapeutics, and transmission and prevention. Many of SERV’s research projects are integrative and touch on more than one of these streams. This allows SERV to develop a holistic understanding of emerging and respiratory viruses. Learn more about the importance of each of the three main streams of research below:


Identifying the genetic sequence of a virus is an essential step for recognizing key targets for treatments and vaccines. It can also tell us a story of the virus’s origin and its relation to other viruses. This approach provides precision genomic data, which will be essential for outbreak investigations. Funds for SERV allow Sunnybrook’s scientists to turn around whole genome viral sequences at the site of care: Sunnybrook.


Our ability to identify and isolate the virus that causes COVID-19, based on samples from infected patients, allows us to now collaborate on antiviral research and conduct our own vaccine and transmission work. The isolated virus is already being used in laboratories across Canada to further COVID-19 research. We will continue to share our findings about the virus within Canadian research and diagnostic communities, thereby driving further innovative solutions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.


As part of the World Health Organization’s effort to evaluate risk to health-care workers providing certain support measures, such as high flow oxygen use, Sunnybrook has built a simulation space for live virus experiments using mannequins. The findings of these experiments are crucial for protecting care providers and helping prevent the spread of the virus within hospitals.


Ontario Coronavirus Coalition (ONCoV) (Genomics)

The Ontario Coronavirus Coalition (ONCoV) seeks to sequence the genomes of COVID-19 patients across the regions of Peel and Toronto. Using whole genome viral sequences, the SERV team can answer questions about the origin and spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the region. Additionally, whole genome sequencing allows us to monitor mutations in the viral genome, information that can inform key targets for treatments and vaccines. ONCoV is part of the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN).

SARS-CoV-2 Viral Dispersion

This study aims to better understand how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads in the environment. To investigate this, the SERV team uses a mannequin (Quarentino) hooked up to a ventilator in a negative pressure room, which mimics a patient in an ICU room. A non-harmful “viral surrogate” is then aerosolized through the mannequin and our team collects and counts the viral particles from the air. This allows us to study how the virus spreads in the room and which means of oxygen delivery spreads the virus more. The results of this work will help hospitals continue to make decisions on how to care for COVID-19 patients while keeping their health care providers safe.


As a part of the Toronto Invasive Bacterial Diseases Network (TIBDN), the RIsk of environmental Surface and air Contamination in COVID19 (RISC- COV) project aims to elucidate risk factors, clinical features, and outcomes of this infection in Canada and around the world. The project will also collect data on how long patients with COVID-19 shed virus, and whether the virus can be found on surfaces and in the air around patients. This information is not only valuable for clinical practice, but also can be used to help guide infection prevention and control practices. Additionally, RISC-CoV aims to collect samples containing the virus, serum, and cells of the immune system in order to create a biobank that can be shared with other investigators developing vaccines and treatment for the disease.

Point of Care Detection for SARS-CoV-2

One of the critical tools for combating COVID-19 spread is point-of-care testing. Being able to identify people infected with COVID-19 rapidly allows for timely tracking of the spread of the virus and the implementation of necessary public health measures. An important first step in point-of-care testing is assessing the performance of the test against a laboratory standard to ensure accurate interpretation of results. The SERV team is working to create and validate a point-of-care COVID-19 assay that can be used for screening patients in low-resource settings.

Influenza in Swine

This study aims to combine environmental sampling (e.g., bioaerosols) and genomics for influenza A virus surveillance in swine farms. The approaches taken in this work could further enhance our ability to detect and characterize the virus circulating in swine.

Arbovirus Surveillance in Ontario

Climate change is anticipated to impact the distribution of diseases including those transmitted by arthropods such as mosquitoes. Arboviruses (viruses transmitted by arthropods) may account for cases of febrile illness, encephalitis and respiratory tract infections of unknown etiology. This gap in knowledge endangers at-risk hosts such as outdoor workers, farmers and farmers’ herds. Our goal is to use a multi-sector strategy to assess threats at the human-animal-ecosystem interface.