null Five RI-MUHC researchers receive new funding from MI4

Innovative approaches in addressing pandemic threats, antimicrobial resistance, and the microbes that shape human health were supported in Round 5 of MI4’s Seed Fund Grant program

Left to right: Madhukar Pai, MD, PhD, Momar Ndao, DVM, PhD, Ira King, PhD, Maziar Divangahi, PhD, and Abhinav Sharma, MD, PhD, are researchers at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre
Left to right: Madhukar Pai, MD, PhD, Momar Ndao, DVM, PhD, Ira King, PhD, Maziar Divangahi, PhD, and Abhinav Sharma, MD, PhD, are researchers at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre

Source: MI4 and RI-MUHC. The McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4) announced funding this month for five projects in the fifth round of its Seed Fund Grant (SFG) program. Members of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI‑MUHC) are co-investigators on each project.

This grant program supports innovative approaches that address three broad thematic areas: Pandemic threats, antimicrobial resistance, and microbes that shape human health. The ultimate goal is to discover, develop and implement innovative solutions for microbial threats to human health across the lifespan. The proposed research must be interdisciplinary and the two co-investigators should represent different fields of expertise from two different institutions of the McGill ecosystem.

The co-investigators of winning projects from the RI-MUHC include Madhukar Pai and Momar Ndao, from the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health Program; Ira King and Maziar Divangahi from the Translational Research in Respiratory Diseases Program; and Abhinav Sharma from the Cardiovascular Health Across the Lifespan Program. All are McGill University faculty members.

Applications were all reviewed by a panel of external experts with the five successful teams each receiving $150,000 ($75,000 per co-principal investigator).

“To date, MI4 has awarded more than $4.5 million in seed funds to support 33 projects. Supporting these nascent projects has led to the creation of new teams and researchers that may not have worked together previously now publishing together and getting grants together,” said MI4 Director Marcel Behr, professor in the Department of Medicine and senior scientist at the RI-MUHC.

Seed Fund Grant Round 5 Recipients

Madhukar Pai and Samira Abbasgholizadeh Rahimi will use the grant to reduce antibiotic abuse at the primary care level in India. Lower- and middle-income countries are the biggest consumers of antibiotics and face the greatest risk of antimicrobial resistance.

“This MI4 seed fund will enable us to put into action a locally adapted, digitally delivered clinical decision support tool in India—creating a positive change in the antibiotic prescription practices of primary care providers. Our findings will not only provide preliminary evidence on the effectiveness of such advanced digital health tools in promoting shared decision-making and reducing antibiotic use but also lay the groundwork for future larger scale trials and inform antibiotic stewardship programs worldwide,” said Dr. Rahimi.

Abhinav Sharma and Judith Mandl plan to investigate the impact of impaired immune responses on viral diversity in humans and mice.

“We are incredibly excited to be receiving seed money from MI4 to develop new tools in our collaborative team to sequence the virome, investigate viral evolution when T cell responses are absent or reduced, and to ask whether virus diversity is different in the people with heart failure. Without MI4 this would not have been possible to get off the ground!” said Professor Mandl and Dr. Sharma.

Lisa Münter and Irah King received a grant to study the gut microbiome to mitigate cholesterol-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease as well as Alzheimer’s disease. With the SFG, their main goal is to identify components of the human gut microbiome that can be used as a point of intervention for the prevention and/or treatment of these disease pathologies.

“Receiving MI4 SFG funding will be instrumental for this budding project, aimed at harnessing the gut microbiome for the management of cholesterol-related diseases. Support from the program undoubtedly provides the necessary momentum for greater collaboration and future long-term funding for this exciting new proposal. Dr. Munter and I look forward to these next steps; thank you MI4!” said Dr. King.

Corinne Maurice and Maziar Divangahi’s project, Early life BCG vaccination shaping gut microbiome and subsequently host defense against tuberculosis, seeks to understand the protective mechanism(s) of Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) in neonates as a roadmap for developing a novel vaccine against TB.

The research has the potential for global impact as approximately two million people die of TB annually and there are eight to ten million new cases of active tuberculosis occurring each year.

Philippe Gros and Momar Ndao plan to test the hypothesis that BPGM may be an attractive therapeutic target for novel anti-malarial drug development. The researchers’ work will pave the way to address the critical global health threat of emerging drug resistance in malarial parasites.

“Malaria is a major threat to global health worldwide, and the emergence of resistance to the most potent anti-malarial drug, artemisinin, has compounded the problem. Pre-clinical studies in mice have established that ablation of the erythrocyte-specific enzyme biphosphoglycerate mutase (BPGM) protects against blood stage and cerebral malaria. The SFG funding will allow us to explore BPGM and BPGM inhibitors a novel as novel anti-malarial drugs,” said Prof. Gros.

The MI4 SFG Round 5 was made possible through the generosity of donors.

“The projects funded in Round 5 really speak to the 5Ws of the Seed Fund Grant competition. But we also need to remind ourselves of the ‘How?’ Our success is dependent on generous donors who understand the importance of what MI4 is striving to do and who remain committed to supporting our mission,” said MI4 co-director Marie Hudson.

About MI4

The McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4) brings together a group of more than 200 scientists and researchers with the goal of developing new solutions for microbial threats to human health and delivering these solutions to the patients and populations who need them most.

For more info, please visit the MI4 Seed Fund Grant page.

April 26, 2023