March 24, 2020

UCalgary researcher to lead global study to improve diagnosis and treatment for children infected by COVID-19

Study already underway at Alberta Children’s Hospital, the first of 50 sites in 14 countries
Dr. Stephen Freedman with Alberta Health Services and the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary is leading an international study to help children infected by COVID-19.
Dr. Stephen Freedman to lead international study to help children infected by COVID-19. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Very little is known about how COVID-19 affects children and what the best treatment is for those who are infected with the virus. Dr. Stephen Freedman, MD, Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation professor in child health and wellness, and an international group of paediatric emergency medicine clinicians and researchers are hoping to change that.

“We want to identify the differences in symptoms between children infected by SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses such as influenza so we can tailor testing and treatment approaches to achieve the best results,” says Freedman (photo above), a paediatric emergency medicine physician with Alberta Health Services and clinician-scientist in the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) and O’Brien Institute for Public Health.

Very little research has been published on COVID-19 infection in children, and health-care professionals need information now.

Freedman’s study is one of 49 new COVID-19 research projects funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). In total, there are 96 projects across the country.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 evolves quickly, and protecting the health of Canadians is our priority,” says Patty Hajdu, minister of health. “The additional teams of researchers receiving funding today will help Canada quickly generate the evidence we need to contribute to the global understanding of the COVID-19 illness. Their essential work will contribute to the development of effective vaccines, diagnostics, treatments, and public health responses.”

Information shared real-time, worldwide

Freedman says information gathered in the study will be shared in real-time with clinicians, researchers and public health agency partners throughout the world including the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and the World Health Organization.  

Researchers will collect data on 12,500 children brought to emergency departments with respiratory illness at 50 sites in 14 countries. The Alberta Children’s Hospital is lead site for this effort and data collection is already underway.

“The Paediatric Emergency Research Team based at the Alberta Children’s Hospital is amazing and they were laser focused to get this study launched,” says Freedman, a professor in the departments of Paediatrics and Emergency Medicine at the CSM. “We’ve been able to fast track this work by taking advantage of infrastructure created by the Paediatric Emergency Research Network group which is conducting a global paediatric pneumonia study.”

Researchers will follow a child’s experience for 90 days, recording travel history, exposures and symptoms, and reviewing lab tests, X-rays, treatment and outcomes.

“It seems that adults get sickest seven to 10 days after first seeing a doctor. We need to know whether that’s the same for children so that we can identify at-risk children, provide them with the most beneficial interventions, at the best time to promote their recovery,” says Freedman.

Study participants will include both children who test positive for SARS-CoV-2 and those who test negative. This will allow researchers to make comparisons between those infected by the coronavirus and those with other respiratory illnesses. Researchers will also look at long-term outcomes for those infected with SARS-CoV-2 to determine whether it leads to any chronic conditions, and will also evaluate the impact regional policies have on the health of children.

The study is also supported by the University of Calgary/Alberta Health Service’s Clinical Research Fund, in addition, seed funding to initiate the project was provided by ACHRI.

On March 6, three other UCalgary research teams received funding to accelerate the development, testing and implementation of countermeasures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19, and its consequences on people and communities.

Infections, Inflammation and Chronic Diseases

The University of Calgary is uniquely positioned to find solutions to key global challenges. Through the research strategy for Infections, Inflammation, and Chronic Diseases in the Changing Environment (IICD), top scientists lead multidisciplinary teams to understand and prevent the complex factors that threaten our health and economies.

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.