In June 2020, CTN 300-2 Engage Cohort Study was awarded a CIHR Operating Grant for COVID-19 Rapid Research Funding. This funding will allow the study team to document COVID-19 infection, immunity, and related determinants in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBM). They will also investigate how information about the measures to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 are received, understood, and being taken up by this population.

This nested sub-study of the Engage Cohort Study, known as the Engage-COVID-19 Study, aims to respond to pressing knowledge gaps concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

Dr. Daniel Grace

We spoke to the Nominated Principal Investigator Dr. Daniel Grace to find out more. Dr. Grace is an Associate Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, and Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Health.

“We will explore the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic on sexual and gender minority men, including how COVID-19 is impacting mental health outcomes, experiences of loneliness, sexual behaviours, substance use patterns, and access to essential healthcare,” explained Dr. Grace. “This population-focused analysis is crucial given that this diverse group has historically experienced significant disparities in physical, mental, and sexual health, amplified by systemic marginalization and high barriers to health care.”

The Engage-COVID-19 Study will take place in Canada’s three largest cities: Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. The researchers believe that, by understanding of the impact of the virus among GBM in these areas, they will be able to provide real-time evidence to inform Canada’s public health response across jurisdictions.

“This funding will support our interdisciplinary research and is only possible because of our community and research partners across Canada,” said Dr. Grace. “As part of the Engage Cohort Study, our research will involve SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing, COVID-specific survey questions, and in-depth qualitative interviews.”

Because this is a sub-study of an established project, the team can use data from the existing Engage cohort, which consists of men aged 16 and over who identify as GBM, including transgender men, and have reported having sex with another man within the past 6 months.

The Engage team itself is made up of researchers, clinicians, and knowledge users who share an interest and expertise in HIV/STI prevention research for GBM. Furthermore, the study is supported by community and public health stakeholders, helping to ensure the research is relevant and the findings reach knowledge users.

Members of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, who are co-investigators on this project (Drs. Matthew P. Cheng, Jesse Papenburg, and Cédric Yansouni), will provide necessary expertise in guiding testing,” said Dr. Grace.

In this unprecedented time, it is vital that COVID-19-related research findings are disseminated to key stakeholders in the most appropriate way, as soon as possible.

“As a research team, we maintain a crosscutting commitment to integrated knowledge translation and community-engagement to ensure data and research findings are rapidly shared with key stakeholders, including community members, service providers, researchers, and public health officials. The team is committed to working with national partners and the sharing of data and our community engagement committees in each city,” Dr. Grace explained.

He continued, “Our study will produce essential cross-city mixed methods biomedical, psychosocial and behavioural data that will enhance local and national collaborative efforts to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, within and beyond GBM communities, including the negative health disruptions and consequences of the pandemic on other dimensions of their physical, mental, and sexual health.”

The Engage-COVID-19 team is also committed to working with national partners and sharing data through an open-science model of data access. This will allow other researchers who are planning to study similar topics to have the option to access data from this study.

Upon completion, study results are expected to enhance local and national efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, not just among GBM communities, but in the population as a whole. Furthermore, the study will provide the first estimates of COVID-19 immunity in a well-defined cohort of sexual and gender minority men.

This project is one of 100 to date that have received funding via the Canadian 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rapid Research competition.

For more information on the study, visit engage-men.ca

Engage-COVID-19 Principal Investigators 

Ontario
Dr. Daniel Grace (NPA; Toronto) is a mixed methods researcher, a CRC in Sexual and Gender Minority Health, Director of the Centre for Sexual and Gender Minority Health, and Associate Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.
Dr. Trevor A. Hart (Toronto site co-PI), Chair in Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health at Ryerson and CTN Co-Lead of the Prevention Core, is an expert on infectious disease behaviours and survey methodology.

Quebec
Dr. Joseph Cox (NPI of Engage Cohort Study (ECS); Montreal co-PI) is a Public Health Physician, Associate Professor in Epidemiology at McGill, and a CTN Investigator.
Dr. Gilles Lambert (Montreal co-PI) is a Public Health Physician at the Montreal Public Health Dept. and Institut national de santé publique du Québec.

British Columbia
Dr. David Moore (Vancouver co-PI) is a Research Scientist at the BC-CfE, an Associate Professor in Medicine at UBC, and a CTN Investigator.
Dr. Nathan Lachowsky (Vancouver site co-PI) is an epidemiologist at the University of Victoria, affiliated researcher at the BC-CfE, and a CTN Investigator.
Jody Jollimore (Principal Knowledge User) is director of community engagement and co-lead of the KT Committee for the ECS. Co-applicants, Knowledge Users & Collaborators: Local research teams are composed of researchers, clinicians, and knowledge users with complementary research expertise (e.g., population-based cohorts, mixed methods, intervention research, infectious diseases and the psycho-socio-behavioural sciences).

CTN 300: The Engage Cohort Study reports on the occurrence of HIV and other sexually transmitted and bloodborne infections and related drivers among GBM. Until 2023, the study team will follow participants from Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. The study aims to 1) measure trends in and determinants of: the use of antiretroviral (ARV)-based HIV prevention, psychosocial-behavioural factors, condom-use, bacterial sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs), and HIV and 2) examine the relationships between ART-based HIV prevention and various sexual health outcomes. The collected data will also be compared between cities, to allow researchers to evaluate current HIV and STBBI prevention strategies and to identify gaps in care and the shortcomings of current programming.

Dr. Joseph Cox serves as Principal Investigator on the Engage Cohort Study.

Written By:

Hannah Branch

Ms. Branch joined the communications department in the fall of 2019. She holds a degree in Human Biology from the University of Birmingham and was previously the commissioning editor of Future Microbiology and Women’s Health. Hannah has worked for the CIG Healthcare Partnership, as well as in other healthcare communications and PR roles, developing campaigns across a variety of healthcare areas and winning the 2017 OTC Marketing Award for her work on health communications campaigns for Boots Pharmacy in the UK.