CIFAR launches 14 AI research projects to help in fight against COVID-19


The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) is launching 14 projects through a new grant program focused on research that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to fight COVID-19.

Launched in March, the program will provide nearly $300,000 in total funding to “innovative, high-risk, high-reward” ideas and projects that address the current outbreak. The program is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Ontario government, Microsoft, and Genome Canada.

“These grants represent a critical opportunity for interdisciplinary researchers.”

“Our government is exploring every opportunity including critical AI research to combat COVID-19 and to contribute to the worldwide knowledge base on this virus,” said Ross Romano, Ontario’s minister of colleges and universities. “This new virus requires innovative ways of thinking and solving problems.”

The projects are expected to be completed within three months to a year, and will explore a range of topics that leverage AI. Collaborators include researchers from academic organizations like the Vector Institute, Mila, and a number of Canadian universities.

These CIFAR-backed projects are among many initiated by Canada’s AI ecosystem intended to help Canada overcome the pandemic. In the private sector, startups like Element AI, DarwinAI, and 1QBit have launched solutions to help researchers better understand and track the virus and its impact. Scale.AI, Canada’s AI-focused supercluster, also recently announced it would fund a number of new projects that address COVID-19.

RELATED: Vector Institute repurposing AI infrastructure to support Ontario’s COVID-19 health data project

The 14 CIFAR projects include:

  • PanXcea: A pandemic prediction tool that uses X-Ray-based analysis
  • MyTrace: A privacy-compliant contact-tracing mobile app for COVID-19.
  • COVIDEX: A project that uses biomedical knowledge graphs for COVID-19 drug repurposing strategies.
  • COVID-Net: An open-source deep learning platform for COVID-19 detection and risk stratification.
  • A tracing project that will track the genetic history of SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
  • A study that will model the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between animals on a genetic level.
  • A study that will detect and monitor pneumonia in COVID-19 patients using machine learning and ultrasound imaging.
  • A project aimed to accelerate small molecule drug discovery.
  • A project focused on safeguarding at-risk demographics with AI.
  • A study intended to identify and validate drug repurposing candidates to treat COVID-19, using AI.
  • A child and family study that will explore how to prevent COVID-19 infection in families.
  • Research that will track mental health during the pandemic.
  • A study that demonstrates how existing software tools can be used to automate parts of infectious disease control policy.

“These grants represent a critical opportunity for interdisciplinary researchers to collaborate on solutions that will support Canadians in their return to everyday life,” said Alejandro Adem, president of NSERC. “We are thrilled to partner with CIFAR on this forward-thinking initiative.”

Image source Unsplash. Photo by Louis Reed.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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