Category Archives: Faculty

View recent posts and news from our faculty members. For our faculty profiles, read more here: https://www.meakinsmcgill.com/faculty-members/ 

Montreal-area hospitals have almost reached capacity

COVID-19 situation in the ICU is critical

As the number of hospitalizations with COVID-19 patients increases into January 2021, Dr. Peter Goldberg discusses how the MUHC is planning to operationalize a potential increase in patients. These are some of the logistical and emotional choices Montreal area hospitals may have to face in the coming weeks.

Interviews with Dr. Goldberg on the status of Montreal hospitals, and what happens next:

Who will be most affected by COVID-19?

A related post from November 2020:

We are months into the second wave of COVID-19 yet healthcare workers remain unable to predict who will get sick from the virus and who will not. Neither the severity of a patient’s symptoms, nor their age, forecast the ultimate outcome. Nor does the existence of a pre-existing medical condition dictate how things will end. The truth is, healthcare teams do not know who will be most affected by COVID-19. In a recent interview, Dr. Peter Goldberg, associate member of the Meakins-Christie Laboratories and researcher in the RESP Program of the RI-MUHC, expresses his frustration at his inability to save someone who is too young, too alive, to die:

“it was like a forest fire, and all I had was a garden hose.”

Dr. Goldberg

Even patients seemingly on the mend can take a sudden turn for the worse and experience a rapid decline. Suddenly their life is in jeopardy. Physicians must be ready to respond quickly when this happens, but when not successful they are left to watch their patients pass on without the support of their family or friends.

“If there is anything more distressing than seeing someone die, it is seeing them die alone, or a nurse holding up a phone on Zoom or Skype so that family members can watch this,”

Dr. Goldberg

Canada’s case fatality rate is high amongst peer countries, but it is suggested that the trend could be due to testing: in Canada, testing has focused on individuals with symptoms and at-risk individuals, rather than the entire population. Regardless of testing, as the number of people with severe symptoms require hospitalization increases, hospitals become overloaded and physicians are faced with difficult decisions. Reflecting back on the spring and how the hospitals quickly filled up, Dr. Goldberg recalls having “very disturbing” conversations with hospital ethicists, and he sincerely hopes not to find himself in a similar position this time around:

“I don’t think the community knows that these conversations are going on. We’re talking about them — we’re not talking about something esoteric about ourselves. We’re talking about how ICUs, if we reach the limitation of our capacity to treat COVID patients, then we’re going to have to make decisions about who gets the bed.”

Dr. Peter Goldberg

Dr. Goldberg speaks of fighting this virus from a physician’s perspective, and the difficulty to predict who will be most affected by COVID-19, in his interview with Sharon Kirkley of the National Post.

The interview with Dr. Goldberg can be read here:

Preliminary findings of Dr. Benjamin Smith's study suggest a shorter COVID-19 quarantine period may be possible for the future.

A shorter COVID-19 quarantine period

A RI-MUHC study led by Dr. Benjamin Smith suggests appropriate testing could bring the COVID-19 quarantine period down from 14 to 7 days. Healthcare workers who developed COVID-19 after they were advised to self-isolate following a high-risk SARS-CoV-2 exposure, were all detected by day 7. This means that a simple testing strategy may allow for the early detection of healthcare workers who will develop COVID-19 after a high-risk exposure.

Read More:

COVID-19 testing: Timing may be everything

The original post appeared November 2020:

It seems that a shorter COVID-19 quarantine period may be possible, thanks to the work of Dr. Benjamin Smith, MI4 scientist and member of the Meakins-Christie Laboratories. Dr. Smith was primarily looking to ease the burden of this virus on the healthcare system. Healthcare workers are at the greatest risk of exposure while at work and yet their presence at work is crucial to handle an ever-increasing influx of COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Smith began by questioning the duration of the isolation period after exposure, 14 days, and looked to reduce that window. He developed a study, and is using healthcare workers exposed to the virus as his test subjects. Testing them using a variety of methods at varying time intervals throughout their isolation has given positive results.

“Our study suggests that a simple infection control strategy consisting of symptom-triggered testing from day 0 to 7, followed by a standard home-based test on day 7, detects all or nearly all healthcare workers who develop COVID-19 after high-risk exposure. It’s a promising result. If these findings are confirmed as we test a larger number of people, this testing strategy could significantly shorten the self-isolation duration required for healthcare workers,”

Dr. Benjamin Smith

The initial findings of his study indicate that the results of a nasopharyngeal swab and saliva test on the 7th day of quarantine will predict fairly accurately the likelihood of developing the virus in day 8-14. Continued positive results in this ongoing study will bring a great sense of relief to many. A shorter COVID-19 quarantine period will benefit more than just the intended healthcare workers. Other patients looking to access the healthcare system, travellers, society as a whole will feel a burden lifting in light of this news.

Read More:

  • The full article about Dr. Benjamin Smith’s study and the encouraging results can be read in the article COVID-19 testing: Timing may be everything, appearing in the November 18, 2020 edition of Health e-News. Photo credit: Owen Egan / Joni Dufour.
Dr. Simon Rousseau and Dr. Jean Bourbeau of the RESP Program at the Research Institute of the MUHC are recipients of QRHN 2020-2021 Project Grants

RESP researchers receive QRHN funding

Congratulations to the following RESP researchers for receiving 2020-2021 grants from the Quebec Respiratory Health Research Network.

  • Dr. Simon Rousseau – awarded a Team Projects grant for his project: “Impact of prior coticosteroids therapy for airway diseases on COVID-19 clinical trajectory”.
  • Dr. Jean Bourbeau – awarded a Priority Projects grant for his project: “Impact of the environment on the development and aggravation of obstructive and remodelling lung diseases”.

More about the Quebec Respiratory Health Research Network (QRHN).

Larry Lands and Laurent Pharmaceuticles to begin a clinical trial on COVID-19 treatment with LAU-7b, a pro-resolving drug with potential antiviral properties against coronavirus

LAU-7b clinical trial on COVID-19 treatment

The RI-MUHC is currently enrolling patients in RESOLUTION, a clinical trial of LAU-7b for the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drug acts on lung inflammation and showed potent antiviral effects in-vitro against SARS-CoV-2. Results from previous studies in adult CF patients showed an important reduction of key pro-inflammatory biomarkers at the onset of a pulmonary exacerbation episodes, suggestive of a protective effect of the drug on the lungs.

Read more here:

Phase 2 clinical study with LAU-7b

An original post from April 2020 described the start of the clinical trial:

Laurent Pharmaceuticals, a McGill spinoff, will run a Phase 2 clinical study with LAU-7b, a pro-resolving drug with potential antiviral properties against coronavirus.

Larry Lands is the Chief Medical Advisor for Laurent Pharmaceuticals. Laurent Pharmaceuticals Inc. is planning to test its lead drug LAU-7b in patients with COVID-19 disease. LAU-7b was recently identified as a potential anti-viral therapeutic option for COVID-19 during a drug-library screening effort.

The Research Institute of the MUHC is presently enrolling participants in the study, called RESOLUTION. LAU-7b is a novel oral form of a drug called fenretinide, which inhibits the inflammatory reaction of the body to the virus. This study could lead to improved treatments for hospitalized COVID-19 patients who are at higher risk of developing complications.

“Thanks to its inflammation-controlling properties, low-dose fenretinide triggers a natural mechanism – the body’s own resolution of the inflammation process – which keeps the inflammatory response under control without suppressing its protective immune role.”

Dr. Larry Lands

Read more here:

McGill spinoff Laurent Pharmaceuticals to begin clinical trial on COVID-19 treatment. Company to run a Phase 2 clinical study with LAU-7b, a pro-resolving drug with potential antiviral properties against coronavirus. By Junji Nishihata. McGill Reporter. April 11, 2020.

Dr. Carolyn Baglole ensures that cannabis-related research continues during the pandemic

Cannabis-related research continues

Since the start of the pandemic, Dr. Carolyn Baglole, member of the Meakins-Christie Laboratories and Director of the McGill Research Centre for Cannabis, has ensured that cannabis-related research continues. Although research has been considerably ramped down, Dr. Baglole asserts:

“We still have so much to learn about cannabis,” “We need to keep this research on track so we can further the science and better inform policymakers and the public.”

Dr. Carolyn Baglole

Although Dr. Baglole did not begin her scientific career with cannabis-related research in mind, the legalization of cannabis in Canada and other countries around the world has led to a growing interest in and use of the product for medical purposes. Recognizing the need for more information, researchers like Dr. Baglole are focusing on the potentially positive effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on the human body. CBD is the compound found in cannabis that has medicinal uses as it does not have psychotropic side effects. Early research suggests it may have an effect on the immune system and anti-inflammatory properties.

The Association québécoise de l’industrie du cannabis (AQIC) has launched the CBD Research Partnership Fund, which Dr. Baglole hopes will help to increase interest and support for this field of research into CBD and its yet-to-be discovered medicinal benefits. Partnerships such as this one will ensure that cannabis-related research continues far into the future.

“I hope that the CBD Research Partnership Fund has a feed-forward effect for CBD research at McGill,” Baglole says. “I hope it shows the high-quality work that can come out of this kind of research partnership and attracts additional funding so that we’re able to support more cutting-edge research projects.”

Read the interview with Dr. Carolyn Baglole here:

Dr. Dao Nguyen dreams of creating the Antimicrobial Resistance Centre to research a world without effective antibiotics

Preventing a post-antibiotic world

It is World Antimicrobial Awareness Week and Dr. Dao Nguyen, a researcher at MI4 and clinician-scientist at the Meakins-Christie Laboratories and the RI-MUHC, dreams of applying her knowledge and skills to preventing a post-antibiotic world. We have all read about the increasing strength of bacteria and hear how our present-day antibiotics are becoming ineffective. In fact, it is estimated that 20-30% of currently existing bacteria are resistant to available drugs. The WHO estimates that by 2050 drug-resistant organisms will surpass cancer as the primary cause of death. This is the problem Dr. Nguyen would like to take on.

She would like to create an interdisciplinary Antimicrobial Resistance Centre where members of the scientific community can combine their knowledge and work towards preventing a post-antibiotic world. Thanks to the MUHC Foundation’s fundraising efforts, Dr. Nguyen’s dream of an Antimicrobial Resistance Centre will likely come to fruition – something we should each be thankful for. Dr. Nguyen explains:

“Let’s say you accidentally cut yourself. Right now, you can get treatment from a topical cream or take antibiotic pills to cure the infection in a few days,” says Dr. Nguyen. “With antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it wouldn’t be treated as easily and the infection could spread requiring an amputation.”

An amputation would be an extreme result from a simple cut on the finger, yet an all too possible outcome if research is not carried out and solutions are not found.

Read the interview with Dr. Dao Nguyen here:

Julia Chronopoulos of the Martin Lab was awarded 2nd prize for her presentation at the Quebec Respiratory Health Research Days 2020 2020

Quebec Respiratory Health Research Day

Congratulations to Julia Chronopoulos of the Martin Lab in the Meakins-Christie Laboratories! Julia was awarded 2nd prize for her presentation Immunity to Influenza A Virus Infection during Pregnancy. The presentation was given during the first virtual edition of the Quebec Respiratory Health Research Days, held from November 9-11, 2020.

Congratulations as well goes to Julien Karim Malet of the Nguyen Lab for his active participation during this event.

Dr. Bruce Mazer, Associate Scientific Director of the COVID-19 Immunity Taskforce, on understanding COVID-19 immunity.

Decoding Immunity to COVID-19

This week on Health Matters, Centre universitaire de santé McGill – McGill University Health Centre physician and researcher, Dr. Bruce Mazer discusses findings and unanswered questions about decoding immunity to COVID-19 and his role in the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

Dr. Mazer, Associate Scientific Director of the Taskforce, sums up the goal of their work as: to understand the prevalence of the virus in the community at large, and to learn about how the body responds to the virus. Completed studies in this area have revealed the following:

“We know that the prevalence of the antibodies in the population of healthy blood donors is between 0.7% and 1.0% of the population, as high as 2.9% in certain areas of Quebec and Ontario.”

Dr. Bruce Mazer

Although these numbers indicate a lack of herd immunity, he feels it is more important to understand how to treat individuals who are most at risk, to develop a vaccine, and to find answers to some of their yet-to-be-answered questions. Finding answers to questions such as why some people are more affected by this virus than others, why some people are more affected by previous viruses but not this one, and how long the antibodies created by vaccination will last in the body, would go a long way in decoding immunity to COVID-19.

Listen to Dr. Mazer’s interview by Julie Quenneville on:

Dr. Dao Nguyen discusses the importance of the work undertaken by MI4 researchers in an interview in Health Matters..

The M[i]4 Initiative

Dr. Dao Nguyen is a researcher with the Meakins-Christie Labs and M[i]4 (the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity). In this interview, which appears on the MUHC Foundation’s Health Matters Series, Dr. Nguyen explains the value of the M[i]4 initiative. Not only does this initiative provide researchers with funding for their research, it also enables them to share ideas across numerous disciplines, thus increasing their chances of developing new ideas and finding solutions.

Dr. Nguyen believes that when the general public hears the word ‘infection’, their mind is likely to focus on COVID-19; however infection, antibiotics and immunity go far beyond this virus. Infection control is important for individuals in many circumstances, such as undergoing surgery, chemotherapy or even when someone cuts their hand. Over time, infections are getting stronger and new antibiotics are needed to treat them. Pharmaceutical companies were committed to the development of new treatments in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, but are now focusing their efforts in more profitable areas. This leaves a void which the M[i]4 initiative hopes to fill.

Although M[i]4 receives funding from various sources, donations also play an important role. A donation can help to move an idea from paper to the laboratory. Donations can help with the completion of a project or infrastructure. Dr. Nguyen highly values donations received, and appreciates this financial support for their valuable work.

Listen to La recherche essentielle du CUSM pour combattre le COVID-19 on Health Matters.

To listen to the interview:

MUHC Health Matters News Series
Web: https://bit.ly/3beMKBH
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/32HFxrc
Apple: https://apple.co/35NvItS

Maziar Divangahi, Principal Investigator, Nargis Khan, Postdoctoral Fellow and first author of the study, Jeff Downey, PhD candidate and co-first author of the study

Cracking the Code of Stem Cells in TB

Congratulations Dr Nargis Khan (PDF) and Jeffrey Downey (PhD trainee), from the Dr. Maziar Divangahi laboratory, on their new study published today in Cell! The study shows that stem cells can be targeted for protective vaccination as well as be hijacked by a pathogen to increase TB virulence.

Dr. Maziar Divangahi’s latest study is in follow up to his previous work that showed that exposure of bone marrow stem cells to a live BCG vaccine (the only available vaccine for TB) reprograms these cells to generate protective innate immunity against TB. However, it was still not know what happened to these stem cells after they were exposed to the pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). In this study, the team demonstrates that soon after Mtb infection, the bacteria translocate from the lungs to the bone marrow and reprograms stem cells to impair innate immunity against TB.


“What’s new in this study is that we now know that Mtb hijacks the immune response at the very early phase of infection by accessing the bone marrow and manipulating stem cells. This leads to the generation of impaired innate immune cells, which are effectively incapacitated to fight the infection in the lung, thus allowing the bacteria to grow.”

Dr. Nargis Khan

Once the function of the stem cells has been corrupted by the Mtb pathogen, they lose their ability to fight off the infection in the lungs. In essence, alternative approaches that crack the protective code of stem cells in the bone marrow are urgently needed to eradicate TB.

Read the News Releases:

Read the publication:

Nargis Khan, Jeffrey Downey, Joaquin Sanz, Eva Kaufmann, Birte Blankenhaus, Alain Pacis, Erwan Pernet, Eisha Ahmed, Silvia Cardoso, Anastasia Nijnik, Bruce Mazer, Christopher Sassetti, Marcel A. Behr, Miguel P. Soares, Luis B. Barreiro and Maziar Divangahi. M. tuberculosis reprograms hematopoietic stem cells to limit myelopoiesis and impair trained immunity. Cell. 2020. 183(3): p752-770.E22.