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Child Health Research at the Glen: Dr. Jacquetta Trasler Reflects on Getting There


Dr. Jacquetta Trasler, a researcher and James McGill Professor of Pediatrics, Human Genetics, and Pharmacology and Therapeutics at McGill University, and Director of the Developmental Genetics Research Laboratory at the MCH-MUHC

Bringing child health research from the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH-MUHC) to the new Glen site of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) was not an overnight job. For Dr. Jacquetta Trasler, it was an eight-year journey. When she completed two terms as scientific director at the MCH-MUHC and director of pediatric research at the RI-MUHC this April, within a month of that move, one great journey had ended – and a new one began.

It is now the task of her successor, Dr. Bruce Mazer, together with Dr. Constantin Polychronakos and the associate leaders of the new Child Health and Human Development Program, to lead the reorganized child health research community on the next leg of the adventure: putting the cutting-edge facilities at the Glen and Montreal General Hospital sites to good use.

Members of the research community, hospital and MCH Foundation congregated in the Atrium at the Glen research site to express their appreciation to Dr. Trasler at a luncheon on June 15. During the past eight years, said Dr. Vassilios Papadopoulos, Executive Director of the RI-MUHC, "under her leadership, pediatric research helped form a new, integrated vision for a continuum of research from childhood to adulthood." 

It was the ideal time to offer Dr. Trasler a penny for her thoughts.

Q&A: Dr. Jacquetta Trasler

As a developmental genetics researcher, what brought you to the MCH originally? 
Jaquetta Trasler: Both my background and field of research attracted me to the MCH in 1990. With its international reputation in the field of medical genetics, I saw the MCH as the ideal academic environment for me, and I was fortunate that Dr. Charles Scriver enthusiastically supported my recruitment. The scientific director at that time was Dr. Roy Gravel, who had recently arrived from the SickKids in Toronto. He established a modern molecular genetics infrastructure at the MCH and provided a strong mentoring environment for new investigators. The face-to-face internal grant review process he set up at that time increased the competiveness of MCH scientists and helped investigators at the MCH learn about their colleagues' research, strengthening their ties and identity.  

Have those reasons changed, as you bring your lab into a new era at the Glen?
JT: If anything, after my experience as scientific director at the MCH and director of pediatric research at the RI-MUHC, I've become more involved with the incredibly collegial group of researchers in the pediatric community, and my research has become even more aligned with the mission of the MCH over the last 25 years. In the last eight years, my interest in children's outcomes following assisted reproduction has led to collaborations with clinician-investigators from across all four Quebec academic pediatric institutions, as well.

What were major challenges for child health research at the MCH in 2007, when you took on the responsibilities of scientific director for pediatric research?
JT: When I arrived at the MCH in 1990, I was told not to get too comfortable in our "temporary" research facilities at the Place Toulon building, two blocks from the hospital! We would be moving to a new children's hospital with integrated research facilities within about 5 years. 

Despite capital campaigns and many different plans, we hadn't moved 17 years later, and faced numerous challenges – including a "last-century" hospital, inadequate space for researchers, waning strength in clinical and evaluative research, an inability to hire tenure-track investigators, and out-dated infrastructure for competitive research.    

How have MCH investigators and research personnel risen to those challenges?
JT: Over the last eight years we had two main goals. First, to prepare the move of MCH investigators to the new Glen site, and second, to make sure our investigators, including new recruits, had the facilities they needed to continue to carry out their research prior to the move. To prepare for the move, MCH investigators actively took part in the preparation of the application to the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and in planning the new Glen facilities. 

In fact, our role as child health research investigators was key to the overall emphasis of the CFI proposal, called Translational Research and Intervention Across the Lifespan. Not only did our investigators come together to form one of the five themes, Prenatal and Childhood Origins of Disease, but they contributed to strengthening the other four themes. Once the CFI grant was awarded, our investigators stayed actively involved, devoting many, many hours on committees to maintain the strength of child health research within the overall project and ensure that its unique needs were met.    

What are the greatest challenges and opportunities now for child health research at the RI-MUHC?
JT: Our greatest challenge will be to fully take advantage of all the opportunities our new Glen facilities have to offer! With so many accomplished investigators so close together, new projects, new teams and new solutions to children's health issues are possible. I would like to see child health researchers using our new hospital and research facilities to take the lead in running multidisciplinary projects at national and international levels. 

I encourage our research leaders to continue to work closely with the MCH Foundation to communicate our investigators' work to the public and provide new ways to recruit the best child health researchers to the MCH, with a balance of fundamental, clinical and health outcomes expertise.