RI-MUHC ANNUAL REPORT 2023
FOCUS ON OUR TRAINEES
Over 1,600 research trainees play a vital role in advancing biomedical research at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC). These highlights celebrate only a few of the bright minds at work over the past year!
- PRESTIGIOUS AWARDS, PUBLICATIONS AND HONOURS
- EQUITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN HEALTH RESEARCH
- EARLY AND MID-CAREER RESEARCHERS NETWORK (EACARE)
- WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
- MESSAGE FROM THE DCAT TEAM
Kriti Agarwal, PT
Doctoral student, rehabilitation science
Supervisor: Tania Janaudis-Ferreira, PhD
Received the Dr. Margaret R. Becklake Fellowship in Respiratory Research (2022-2023). Kriti Agarwal is a physiotherapist working towards her PhD in the field of physical therapy and rehabilitation in individuals with long-term symptoms of COVID-19. Her research project is an intervention study focussed on virtual rehabilitation in patients with long COVID.
Doctoral student, human genetics
Supervisor: Loydie Majewska, PhD
First author of a publication, “Snrpb is required in murine neural crest cells for proper splicing and craniofacial morphogenesis,” selected for the cover page of the journal Disease Models & Mechanisms and a first-person interview.
Doctoral student, counselling psychology
Co-supervisors: Deborah Da Costa, PhD, and Annett Korner, PhD
Best Abstract by a Rheumatology Post-Graduate Research Trainee award at the Canadian Rheumatology Association meeting, February 2023: “Cannabis use in arthritis: characteristics and comparisons between users and non-users.” The study compared disease and psychosocial characteristics, such as health status, pain and fatigue, in users and non-users who completed an online survey on health-seeking behaviours.
Doctoral student, experimental medicine
Supervisor: Emily McDonald, MD
Prestigious innovation award for her PhD work with a multidisciplinary team. The MedSafer team won First Jury Prize in the Acfas Génies en affaires competition for their project aimed at integrating MedSafer, a deprescribing software, into Quebec's electronic medical records. Émilie Bortolussi-Courval has provided interviews to national media about her research. A nurse clinician, she has also received competitive salary funding for nurses in research.
Didier Brassard, RD, PhD
Postdoctoral fellow, human nutrition
Supervisor: Stéphanie Chevalier, RD, PhD
PhD Dissertation Award for Outstanding Research at the Canadian Nutrition Society Annual Conference, May 2023. Combining research interests in the domains of aging and nutritional epidemiology, Didier Brassard is examining the adequacy of Canada's Food Guide recommendations on healthy food choices for older adults.
Ya-Ting Chang, PhD
Postdoctoral fellow, neurology
Supervisor: Wei-Hsiang Huang, PhD
By combining advanced genetic tools, in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiology, and whole brain clearing and imaging, Ya-Ting Chang discovered that Rai1, the causal gene for Smith-Magenis syndrome, is a novel regulator or hippocampal neuronal excitability that could explain seizure susceptibility in patients. This work also identified that mis-regulation of a calcium channel contributes to hippocampal hyperexcitability, providing a potential drug candidate that could reverse seizures (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA).
Doctoral student, experimental medicine
Co-supervisors: Nada Jabado, MD, PhD, and Livia Garzia, PhD
Wajih Jawhar recently joined the Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Consortium trainee committee. As part of this committee, he runs podcast interviews and organizes a SciComm event on epigenetics and its effects on life, development, cancer, and other topics, to spark scientific interest in the public.
Elaheh Khorasani, PhD
Postdoctoral fellow, experimental surgery
Supervisor: Julio Fiore Jr., PhD, Injury Repair Recovery Program
Co-investigator on a CIHR grant, Patient-Oriented Research: Early-Career Investigator category, funded in fall 2022: “Comparative effectiveness of opioid versus opioid-free post-discharge analgesia after outpatient breast surgery: A randomized controlled trial.” Elaheh Khorasani was also selected to participate in the 2022-2023 cohort of the RI-MUHC’s Clinical and Regulatory Affairs Program and accepted into the Tremplin Research Management and Faculty Track program (2023-2025).
Doctoral student, dermatology
Supervisor: Elena Netchiporouk, MD
Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, CIHR, and top-ranked candidate for the FRQS MD/PhD training award as well as CIHR doctoral award. Michelle Le has published 58 peer-reviewed articles and has an h-index of 14. Investigating the efficacy and safety of omalizumab in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, she collaborates with a multidisciplinary team of internists, respirologists, allergists, dermatologists, data scientists and biochemists. Her project involves partnerships with the MUHC COVID-19 Biobank, McGill’s MI4-Clinical Research Platform, Sunnybrook Research Institute and Niagara Health.
Doctoral student, biological and biomedical engineerin
Supervisor: John Kildea, PhD
Anthony J. MacKay Best Student Paper Award, Canadian category: “Using single-cell DNA sequencing as a dosimetric tool ─ an exploratory study.” Felix Mathew says, “The aim of the study is to identify mutational differences introduced by different types of radiation in human cells, and to understand why the biological risks – mainly the risk of cancer – associated with each radiation type are different. This study is the first to use single-cell whole-genome DNA sequencing to correlate radiation damage at the genome level with radiation dose.”
Everglad Mugutso, MBChB
M.Sc. student, experimental medicine
Supervisor: Nicole Ezer, MDCM, FRCPC, MPH
Received the Dr. Margaret R. Becklake Fellowship in Respiratory Research (2022-2023). Everglad Mogutso is a physician completing a research project that will examine ways to provide better quality of care and quality of life for patients with lung cancer. Her project will use data and artificial intelligence to analyze existing data for better predictive models – stratifying patients according to their risk or treatments, to improve outcomes.
Chris Salmon, PhD
Postdoctoral fellow, neurology and neurosurgery
Supervisor: Keith Murai, PhD
Chris Salmon worked with a team of neuroscientists, anatomists, mathematicians, and computer scientists to develop new, powerful computer vision and machine learning approaches to decode the complex nanoscopic structural framework of brain cells in their native three-dimensional environment. He is first author of their study published in Current Biology (March 2023), which produced the most detailed analysis to date on the nanoarchitecture of brain cells called astrocytes.
M.Sc. student, experimental surgery
Supervisor: Thomas Hemmerling, MD
Development of an AI-based nerve recognition software sponsored by CQDM governmental funds. This software has the potential to help clinicians better recognize nerve structures and be used for anesthetic nerve blocks and pain treatments. Noam Suissa’s groundbreaking study also compared the performance of experts in recognizing nerve structures for such nerve blocks, laying the benchmark for future studies in this new and exciting field.
Hao Yu Chen, PhD
Doctoral student, experimental medicine (graduated in 2022)
Supervisors: Jamie Engert, PhD, and George Thanassoulis, MD
First author of “Dyslipidemia, inflammation, calcification, and adiposity in aortic stenosis: a genome-wide study,” European Heart Journal, June 2023 (impact factor: 39.3). The study presented results of her analysis of large-scale genetics data from cohorts and collaborators in North America and Europe. This work identified novel genes involved in the etiology of aortic stenosis that implicate possible treatments and prevention strategies.
Women In Bio
Catherine Argyriou, PhD
Postdoctoral fellow, human genetics
Supervisor: Nancy Braverman, MD
Chair of the Greater Montreal Chapter of Women In Bio. This organization of professionals is committed to promoting careers, leadership, and entrepreneurship for all women in the life sciences.
Canadian Cardiovascular Featured Research Award
Zahra Azizi, MD, M.Sc.
Postdoctoral fellow, medicine
Supervisor: Louise Pilote, MD, MPH, PhD
Winner of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society Featured Research Award for her abstract submitted to the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in October 2022: “A Comparison of Synthetic Data Generation and Federated Analysis for Performing an International Assessment of Gender Effects on Cardiovascular Health.”
As part of the GOING-FWD group, a five-country consortium that aims to integrate sex and psycho-socio-cultural factors in assessing outcomes of chronic diseases with a specific focus on gender-related differences across various countries, this study pooled data from Canadian and Austrian populations using two innovative methodologies: federated analysis and synthetic data generation. This study has provided valuable insights into the interaction between gender and country, ultimately aiding in the identification of areas requiring action to improve the general health of populations.
Fiera Capital Awards
The Fiera Capital Awards for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Health Care Research provide critical new funding to M.Sc. and PhD students at the RI-MUHC who have great potential to advance medical research based on the excellence of their academic record, and who belong to a racialized group. Launched in fall 2022, the awards are funded by the Fiera Capital Corporation and McGill University Health Centre Foundation.
The inaugural recipients are:
Shawniya Alageswaran, doctoral student supervised by Aparna Suvrathan, PhD, studies synaptic plasticity in the cerebellum, the way the brain changes and adapts to new information.
Sayed Azher, doctoral student supervised by Jason Harley, PhD, is finding ways to integrate technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality simulations into medical education.
Yasmine Benslimane, M.Sc. student supervised by Pnina Brodt, PhD, is studying how biological sex can affect cancer growth and treatment response.
Annabel Wing-Yan Fan, doctoral student supervised by Alexander Baldwin, PhD, studies how visual information processing changes with age.
Misghana Kassa, M.Sc. student supervised by Adam Hart, MD, MASc., M.Sc., is testing the efficacy of antimicrobial coatings that could safeguard replacement joints against infection.
Young researchers at the RI-MUHC launched an organization for professional support in 2022, guided by an in-depth survey of the postdoctoral community. An organizing committee led by postdoctoral fellows and research associates oversees the Early and Mid-career Researchers Network (EACARE).
EACARE’s mission is to help elevate and propel young scientists by supporting the career development needs of our postdoctoral fellows as well as early- and mid-career research associates and research assistants. In its first year, the network has focussed on outreach and built strategic collaborations with the Desjardins Centre for Advanced Training and the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team at the RI‑MUHC.
Assistant professor, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Jean-Philippe Leduc-Gaudet, PhD
Former doctoral student supervised by Sabah Hussain, MD, PhD
An assistant professor in the Medical Biology Department at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières since June 2023, Jean-Philippe Leduc-Gaudet is building his academic career on a foundation of solid accomplishments and inter-institutional collaborations during his doctoral studies. That work recently led to his role as first author of a study titled “MYTHO is a novel regulator of skeletal muscle autophagy and integrity,” Nature Communications (March 2023). The study identified a gene that plays a crucial role in skeletal muscle atrophy and could provide a new target for the development of therapies for muscle-related diseases. Researchers from McGill University, Université du Québec à Montréal and the Veneto Institute of Molecular Medicine in Padova, Italy, collaborated in a team science approach.
Medical student recognized for mentorship
Amir Razaghizad, M.Sc.
Former M.Sc. student supervised by Abhinav Sharma, MD, PhD
Now a medical student at McGill University, Amir Razaghizad continues to be involved in research and mentoring projects at the RI-MUHC. He obtained the MITACS Globalink Research Award for research to travel to the University of Lorraine, France, during his Master’s studies to conduct research focusing on cardiac risk prediction modelling. His present research focuses on cardiac magnetic resonance imaging and cardiac proteomics.
Principal scientist, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research
Alexandra Schober, PhD
Former postdoctoral fellow in neurology and neuroscience, supervised by Keith Murai, PhD
Alexandra Schober’s research interest is astrocyte form and function in healthy and Alzheimer's disease model mouse brains. Now a principal scientist at Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research in San Diego, California, she says, “So far I've really enjoyed the collaborative and teamwork aspect of the job. It's very similar to an academic environment and I have a lot of freedom to pursue ideas of my own despite the reputation that industry has!”
Scientific evaluator at Health Canada
Yulia Vasianovich, PhD, RAC
Former postdoctoral fellow supervised by Stéphane Laporte, PhD
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, McGill University
Yulia Vasianovich has a research interest in cell signaling: developing biosensors to understand how cells transmit molecular signals and identify the most optimal drug candidates.
“In my new role at Health Canada since April 2023, I am involved in post-market surveillance of marketed prescription drugs to ensure that they are safe for human use,” she says. “Every day brings a new puzzle to solve, which for me, as a scientist, is extremely important and rewarding. What I like the most about this role is the opportunity to apply every bit of my scientific experience to solve real-life problems and contribute to society by bringing innovative and safe therapies to Canadian patients.”
Under the leadership of Dr. Miguel Burnier and Emily Bell, PhD, the Desjardins Centre for Advanced Training (DCAT) team at the RI‑MUHC offers structured career support to RI-MUHC trainees alongside their graduate or postdoctoral training. Funding from the TREMPLIN Consortium (FRQS) and The CANadian Consortium of Clinical Trial TRAINing, or CANTRAIN (CIHR), awarded in late 2022, will support additional career and professional development opportunities in the years to come.
The RI-MUHC thanks Desjardins for generous support in enhancing career development opportunities for its trainees.
Read more about these and other trainee achievements in Training news on the RI-MUHC website
Our research programs
Brain Repair and Integrative Neuroscience Program
Cancer Research Program
Cardiovascular Health Across the Lifespan Program
Child Health and Human Development Program
Metabolic Disorders and Complications Program
Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health Program
Injury Repair Recovery Program
Translational Research in Respiratory Diseases Program