Newsletter

 

Leveraging the power of translational research

 

 

The arrival of COVID-19 in Montreal has changed all of our professional lives. From shutting down non-COVID-related research, to social distancing and e-learning, we have all had to adapt to a new way of working. At MI4, we have concentrated our efforts on fundraising with the MUHC Foundation to advance innovative and impactful COVID-19 research through the Emergency COVID-19 Research Fund (ECRF). Thanks to the generosity of the Hewitt Foundation, the late Elspeth McConnell, and the Trottier Family Foundation, we have been able to accelerate the pace of COVID research by supporting the MI4 Clinical Research Platform at the MUHC and the JGH, the Level 3 Laboratory at the MUHC as well as the recent ECRF call for proposals. The community response to our call for COVID-19 research has been outstanding with over 120 proposals received within 3 weeks of the call. As detailed below, we are hard at work finalizing the reviews of the proposals received in Round 2, so we can help you start these projects as soon as possible. We are deeply grateful to all the reviewers who have participated in this process, particularly given the short turnaround time we asked for. Although at this time we are not yet launching a third round of the ECRF program, through the continued efforts of The MUHC Foundation and now the Montreal General Hospital Foundation and  McGill University Advancement , we hope to be able to continue to support COVID-19 research across McGill and its affiliated institutions. Please stay tuned to the MI4 website for further announcements.

 

 

 


 

Results of MI4 Emergency COVID-19 Research Funding (ECRF) Program: Round One

 

Thanks to the generous support of the MUHC Foundation, MI4 has awarded funding for 16 projects in Round 1 of the MI4 Emergency COVID-19 Research Funding (ECRF) program with a value allocation of approximately $1,500,000. MI4 is also pleased to acknowledge support from the MUHC Division of Cardiology and the McGill Centre for Structural Biology (CRBS), each co-funding one of the proposals below.

 

Please join us in congratulating the following MI4 researchers on their successful ECRF Round 1 submissions:

 

Lead Investigators

Project Title

Matthew Cheng
Erwin Schurr
Guillaume Bourque

Genomic biomarkers to predict outcome and treatment response in hospitalized COVID-19 patients

Martin Schmeing
Don van Meyel

Production of COVID-19 testing reagents to backstop and supplement existing sources

Sara Mahshid

Colorimetric assisted microfluidic device for detection of SARS-Cov2 RNA

Nicolas Moitessier
Anthony Mittermaier

PLpro as a target for the development of novel anti-COVID-19 agents

Irah King

Targeting the gut microbiome to improve COVID-19 disease outcomes

John W. Hanrahan

Targeting coronavirus cation channels with antiviral drugs

Joaquin Ortega
Duane Chung
C. Perry Chou

Development of a new Virus-like-Particle (VLP) vaccine against COVID-19

 

(Partnership grant with the McGill Centre for Structural Biology)

Jorg H. Fritz
Ciriaco A. Piccirillo

Defining the protective host immune response to SARS-CoV-2

Todd  C. Lee
Emily  G. McDonald
Matthew  P. Cheng

Post-exposure Prophylaxis or Preemptive Therapy for SARS-Coronavirus-2: A Pragmatic Randomized Clinical Trial (COVID19 PEP RCT – Canada)

Abhinav Sharma

Management of Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone System blockade in patients admitted in hospital with confirmed coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection: The McGill RAAS-COVID-19 randomized controlled trial

 

(Partnership grant with the MUHC Division of Cardiology)

Matthew P. Cheng
Leighanne O. Parkes
Todd C. Lee
Emily G. McDonald

A Multi-centre, Adaptive, Randomized, Open-label, Controlled Clinical Trial of the Safety and Efficacy of Investigational Therapeutics for the Treatment of COVID-19 in Hospitalized Patients in Canada (CATCO)

Benjamin Smith

PCR-based testing to shorten self-isolation duration in COVID-19 exposed healthcare workers

Dick Menzies
Jonathon Campbell

Assessing costs and benefits of different testing strategies for COVID-19 in Canada

Mathieu Maheu-Giroux
Dimitra Panagiotoglou
Alexandra Schmidt
Nicole Basta
David Buckeridge
Yiqing Xia
Arnaud Godin
Dirk Douwes-Schultz

Real-time modeling of COVID-19 transmission in Canada: epidemic intelligence for an effective public health response

Lara Khoury

Law in Pandemic Times: Powers and Accountability when Facing Emergency

Brett Thombs
Linda Kwakkenbos
Andrea Benedetti
Susan Bartlett
John Varga
Scott Patten
Nicole Culos-Reed
Shannon Hebblethwaite

Mental health in an at-risk population during COVID-19: longitudinal study of risk factors and outcomes and embedded trial of an activity, education, and support intervention

 

 

 


Update on MI4 Emergency COVID-19 Research Funding (ECRF) Program:  ROUND TWO

 

 

The deadline for submissions under Round 2 of the ECRF was April 8th at 12:00 PM EST. We had an incredible response, with 88 proposals received. The review process is currently underway, and the results will be made available in the near future.

 

 

 


 

Watch: McGill Alumni webcast puts spotlight on COVID-19 health concerns

 

On March 31st, 2020, McGill medical experts Dr. Marcel Behr (MI4 Co-Director, Infectious Disease) and Dr. Timothy Evans (Inaugural Director and Associate Dean of the School of Population and Global Health) carried out a follow-up webcast to answer more questions from the McGill community on a variety of topics including flattening the curve of the infection trajectory, immunity, modes of transmission, treatment, and how long we can expect mitigation measures to last. Click here to watch >>>

 

 


 

The Other Side of COVID-19: A Rheumatologist’s POV

 

What does it mean to be doing non-infectious immunology research at McGill during the COVID-19 pandemic? It certainly means a lot of sacrifice. We have been told to ‘ramp down’ our labs, cease all non-essential clinical trials, stop travelling to meetings and drastically reduce in-person interactions. This will undoubtedly have negative impacts on our science and our trainees, although the magnitude of this is really beyond anyone’s grasp at this time. On the other hand, it also means opportunities to expand our research to timely questions: how does SARS-CoV-2 infection modulate immunity in people with pre-existing inflammatory or autoimmune disease? What is the rate and severity of infection in patients taking glucocorticoids, immunomodulatory and immunosuppressive drugs, and biologics? What are the implications for patients already taking some of the anti-rheumatic drugs being tested against COVID-19 (eg. hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, tocilizumab, colchicine)? The inflammatory bowel disease (https://covidibd.org) and rheumatology (https://rheum-covid.org) communities have already launched global registries to collect data and begin to address some of these important questions. Such efforts to study COVID-19 in the setting of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases should be encouraged and prioritized. The fact is, though, that while COVID-19 will cause huge disruptions on scientific research, this can’t compare with the human toll of the pandemic.

 

Marie Hudson, Co-Director (Immunity), MI4

 


 

Additional COVID-19 Resources available to McGill Researchers

 

As many of us are shifting our research focus to COVID-19, we want to share with you some of the resources available to researchers based at McGill and its affiliated institutions. Please see the table below.

 

Resource Name

Description

Contact Person / Email

Current Status / Anticipated Availability

MI4 Clinical Research Platform (MI4-CRP)

Aims to support the MI4 community to conduct world class investigator-initiated and industry sponsored studies and allow us to contribute to global research efforts to address COVID-19 immediately and offer therapeutic options to our patients. 

Jonathan Roger
Project Manager
jonathan.roger@muhc.mcgill.ca

See announcement below.

Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) Lab

This platform is based at the RI-MUHC, approved by Public Health Agency of Canada, and is open to all McGill researchers for COVID-19 related research. This facility supports studies involving live SARS-CoV-2 (the causative agent of COVID-19) in tissue culture and in animal models.

Marcel Behr
marcel.behr@mcgill.ca

 

Dac Vuong*

DacHien.Vuong@MUHC.MCGILL.CA

 

* All investigators who intend to do work in the BSL3 lab are required to complete a BioSafety checklist and submit to Dac Vuong, at email provided. 

 

Approved by PHAC, awaiting live SARS-CoV-2 this week.

BSL3 Animal Models Platform

Working to establish animal models (mouse, ferret, hamster) that will eventually be available for COVID-19 studies.

Hamster model should be up and running by mid-April; ferret model by early May; and mouse model in mid-June.

BSL3 Viral Studies Platform

Support studies involving live SARS-CoV-2 in cultured cells and in animal models. Trained level 3 technicians will perform the experiments that are designed by the PIs and are feasible with the resources at the COVID platform. Costs of reagents, materials, and part of the technician time will be charged to the PIs.

 

Early May, 2020

Biobank Québec COVID-19

The “Biobank Quebec COVID-19” is currently collecting samples from a network of hospitals across the province.  The McGill Genome Centre will generate genomic sequence and expression data from these samples, which will be made available to researchers.  Other biological specimens (blood, PBMCs, plasma) will be included in the biobank. Further information will become available as the program matures.https://reporter.mcgill.ca/frq-to-create-a-province-wide-covid-19-biobank/

Dan Auld
Head of Operations
BQC Task Force daniel.auld@mcgill.ca

 

Ongoing

 


 

Announcing the launch of the MI4 Clinical Research Platform (MI4-CRP)

 

As the COVID-19 epidemic expands, there is an urgent need to ramp up our capacity to support the conduct of clinical trials across the McGill Health System. We are pleased to announce the formation of the MI4 Clinical Research Platform (MI4-CRP) that will be co-led by Dr. Marina Klein (MUHC) and Dr. Christina Greenaway (JGH). This initiative expands upon the successful MI4 MUHC Clinical Trials Platform for Complex and Emerging Diseases, led by Dr Todd Lee, to rapidly deliver infrastructure for the conduct of trials at both the MUHC and JGH. The aim is to support the MI4 community to conduct world class investigator-initiated and industry sponsored studies and allow us to contribute to global research efforts to address COVID-19 immediately and offer therapeutic options to our patients.  Building this structure now will also serve to position us to expand the range of clinical studies in infectious diseases and immunology going forward. 

A COVID Clinical Trials Committee has been struck to advise the MI4-CRP on 1) Defining areas of priority to conduct clinical research and 2) Assessing which trials should be prioritized (e.g. based on need, promise, feasibility, competition with similar patient populations).

 

If you feel that you have studies that may require support, please contact Jonathan Roger (Project Manager) at jonathan.roger@muhc.mcgill.ca so that MI4-CRP can help you to evaluate your needs.

 

MI4-CRP will be reaching out separately to those leading clinical cohorts and biobanking initiatives to ensure that we can maximize the translational research potential of MI4-CRP.

 

Finally, note that MI4-CRP is recruiting a Senior Clinical Research Coordinator. Click here to access the job description! 


 

McGill researchers help launch COVID-19 Resources Canada portal

 

McGill has worked with a network of volunteer researchers, students, and web developers who launched a national website to help those involved in COVID-19 research and development locate human resources, reagents, equipment and information in a timely manner. MI4 researchers are invited to check out and contribute towards the COVID-19 Resources Canada website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Results announced for MI4 Seed Fund Grant – Round 2

 

MI4 is pleased to announce 5 award winners for the second round of MI4 Seed Fund Grants. A total of 23 applications were received. All applications were peer reviewed by an independent Scientific Review Committee composed of researchers external to the McGill community.

 

The awarded grants are as follows:

 

Infection-focused:

  • CCR5 gene editing with antiviral genes to cure HIV-1 infection: Anne Gatignol and Jean-Pierre Routy
  • Integrating polygenic risk scores, machine learning and mouse models to develop predictive tools and therapeutics for severe dengue disease: Jamie Engert and Silvia Vidal
  • The Pragmatic Observation of Labor, Exercise Tolerance, and Respiratory Impairment After Treatment of TB: Faiz Ahmad Khan and Dennis Jensen

 

Immunity-focused:

  • Targeting oncosome educated neutrophil subsets to curtail breast cancer metastasis: Peter Siegel and Janusz Rak  
  • A stem cell-based microfluidics approach to mine the immunomodulatory activity of the gut epithelial secretome: Irah King and Christopher Moraes

 


 

Results announced for MI4 Pediatric Seed Fund Grant

 

Researchers at the Montreal Children’s Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre – the Children’s – and the CHU Sainte-Justine are coming together within the scope of two new projects, funded under the auspices of the MI4 Pediatric Seed Fund Grant program.

 

Made possible through equal contributions from the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation and the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, this program establishes new, inter-institutional translational research teams linking world-class pediatric investigators at the two institutions to support preliminary innovative new ideas, and proof-of-concept studies with the potential to improve child health. The projects will each receive $150,000 over two years to carry out their work.

 

The awarded projects are as follows:

 

  • Improving the appropriateness of antibiotic use to treat pneumonia: Jesse Papenburg (MCH) and Jocelyn Gravel (CHU Sainte-Justine)
  • Developing innovative modeling of primary immunodeficiencies: Fabien Touzot (CHU Sainte-Justine) and Constantin Polychronakos (MCH)

Click here to learn more >>>

 

 


 

Helmholtz and MI4 Partnership – New Beginnings to Advance Groundbreaking Infection Research

 

On March 6, 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between MI4 and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, based in Braunschweig, Germany.  The Helmholtz brings together Infectious Diseases research from across Germany who came to visit McGill in May 2019.  A return visit by an MI4 delegation took place in September 2019, and through these meetings, several areas of research complementarity were identified. 

 

The MOU provides a framework for future research opportunities, including exchange of faculty and trainees, joint research activities, participation in scientific meetings and targeted short-term academic partnerships. This MOU sets the stage for future research partnerships, both during the current COVID crisis and beyond.  Please contact Marcel Behr (marcel.behr@mcgill.ca) for any questions or suggestions about opportunities to further develop research collaborations with members of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research.  

 

 

 


 

McGill Centre for Structural Biology becomes

FRQS Centre de Recherche en Biologie Structurale

 

Congratulations to the McGill Centre for Structural Biology for recently securing $2 million in funding over four years via Le Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS) to create the FRQS Centre de Recherche en Biologie Structurale! MI4 looks forward to collaborating in the months and years ahead, including via provision of co-funding support for this exciting initiative.

 

 

 

 


McGill Investigators Advancing Research at the Interphase of Immunology and Oncology

 

MI4 and the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre (GCRC) will continue to support excellence in research thanks to a generous donation from the Lui in Tso Support Fund established by Dr. Victor Lui. The gift will advance research at the interphase of immunology and oncology through the establishment of the Single Cell and Imaging Mass Cytometry Platform (SCIMAP).

 

Imagine looking at a painting through a pinhole—it would be impossible to know what the full picture looked like. Now imagine looking at that same painting through 100 pinholes, and the picture starts to become clearer. Imaging mass cytometry is a new, cutting-edge technology that gives researchers the ability to look at diseased tissues through many pinholes simultaneously, providing access to unprecedented information with the potential to lead to curative therapies for diseases ranging from neuroinflammatory disorders to cystic fibrosis and cancer.

SCIMAP is a core facility located at the GCRC, that houses Fluidigm CyTOF (Cytometry by Time of Flight) mass cytometry instrumentation for analyzing dissociated tissues, blood and tissue sections. McGill is one of only a few institutions worldwide with a comprehensive suite of mass cytometry instruments and the opportunity to develop and apply novel AI-based strategies for data analysis, making SCIMAP a leader in applying mass cytometry technology.

 

The Tso Support Fund will further the development of this unique resource by enabling the recruitment of a highly experienced and trained facility manager to oversee operations and the development of antibody panels allowing the MI4 and GCRC community to adapt mass cytometry approaches for their research programs. These antibody panels will be designed for comprehensive analysis of the immune/inflammatory micro-environment and cell signaling pathways in samples from cancer patients and murine cancer models, as well as specific panels for analyzing inflammatory/immune responses in neuro-inflammatory disorders (MS, neuro-myelitis optica, auto-immune encephalitis and Rasmussen’s syndrome) and host-pathogen interactions in surgical explants from cystic fibrosis-associated chronic lung infection and other major lung infections including Mycobacterium tuberculosis and influenza.

 

Please join us in congratulating the following MI4 researchers for their work in developing this unique platform: Drs. Daniela Quail (GCRC), Ian Watson (GCRC), Dao Nguyen (McGill University Health Centre), and Jack Antel (The Neuro).

 

 

 

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