Category Archives: News

Respiratory Research News from the Meakins-Christie Laboratories and the RESP program of the RI-MUHC. View our latest funding results, faculty and trainee awards, and our research featured in the media.

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.

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

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.

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. Sushmida Pamidi and team studied the effects of untreated sleep apnea on glucose levels of pregnant women with gestational diabetes.

Sleep, Pregnancy, and Type 2 Diabetes

November 14 is World Diabetes Day! In the lead-up to this, we are promoting work by Dr. Sushmita Pamidi, RESP program scientist, and Raphieal Newbold (MSc graduate). They are studying the link that may lead to better health for mother and baby. Sleep apnea has strong links with type 2 diabetes and is quite prevalent in pregnancy. The research team found that increasing severity of sleep apnea in pregnant women with gestational diabetes was, in fact, linked with higher glucose levels at night. It is possible that improved glucose control in pregnancy by treatment of sleep apnea could lead to improved overall outcomes for mother and baby.

A study published by the group in CHEST reveals that untreated sleep apnea can affect nighttime glucose levels of pregnant women who have gestational diabetes. Dr. Sushmita Pamidi and her team of researchers who carried out the study discovered a clear relationship between sleep, pregnancy, and type 2 diabetes.

The results of this study shed light on the importance of recognizing and treating sleep apnea in these pregnant women, an area that has not previously received much attention. Type 2 diabetes in pregnant women increases their risk for complications during pregnancy, after childbirth, and often results in an increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the children during their lifetime.

In present day, intervention with pregnant women experiencing gestational diabetes primarily focuses on improved nutrition and increased exercise. This study has brought to light another important focus for medical attention as summarized by Dr. Pamidi:

“Overall, we need to think more about the importance of sleep disorders in pregnant women. This may be a missing link in the lifestyle recommendations for this population.”

Dr. Sushmita Pamidi

Read the RI-MUHC story for Diabetes Awareness Month & World Diabetes Day:

Read the complete publication

Newbold R, Benedetti A, Kimoff RJ, Meltzer S, Garfield N, Dasgupta K, Gagnon R, Lavigne L, Olha A, Rey E, Pamidi S. Maternal Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Pregnancy and Increased Nocturnal Glucose Levels in Women with Gestational Diabetes. Chest. 2020 Jul 17:S0012-3692(20)31911-5.

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. Nicole Ezer of the RI-MUHC's RESP Program on what doctors have learned about treating patients with COVID-19.

Treatments for COVID-19

Since the spring physicians have been discovering optimal treatments for COVID-19 symptoms. Dr. Nicole Ezer, a researcher with the RI-MUHC’s RESP Program, was interviewed on this subject on CJAD. Dr. Ezer explained:

Initially it was very challenging to know how to treat patients appropriately, in particular patients who presented in the emergency room and required lots of oxygen.

Dr. Nicole Ezer

Since the spring the medical community has learned a lot about this virus, thanks in part to the many publications that have come out.

The names of medications which have been found best to help hospitalized patients include the steroid dexamethasone and the antiviral remdesivir. These two medications have been very helpful in not only reducing the amount of time patients spend in hospital, but also the number of deaths caused by this virus. These were important discoveries for the medical community.

The focus remains on finding treatments to help patients with less severe symptoms. To this end, all residents of Quebec experiencing milder COVID-19 symptoms are encouraged to take part in an ongoing study at the MUHC called contain-covid19.com. No in-person visits are required. After acceptance into the trial participants will receive their medication by mail. All communications are done remotely. This is one way we can all be involved in the hunt for treatments for COVID-19.

Listen to Dr. Ezer’s interview

What have doctors learned about treating COVID-19 patients? on the Aaron Rand Show, CJAD.

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.

Innate disease tolerance and the SARS CoV-2 virus

Innate Disease Tolerance and COVID-19

Dr. Maziar Divangahi, Associate Director of RI-MUHC’s Meakins-Christie Laboratories, is an expert on tuberculosis and well known in the field of innate disease tolerance. In a recent interview with Markham Heid of Elemental.Medium.com, Dr. Divangahi confirms that tuberculosis is one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases. Nevertheless, a great number of people who are infected with the bacteria do not exhibit any symptoms. They have developed an innate disease tolerance for the virus. Could we teach our bodies innate disease tolerance towards the SARS CoV-2 virus?

Dr. Divangahi explains how the body of some people reacts when the tuberculosis virus reaches their lower airways:

“Either the bacteria will be eliminated during the early phase of the infection, or the host will wall off (the virus) by forming granulomas.”

“We’ve developed very successful mechanisms that allow us to live with (this virus).”

“Rather than trying to eliminate the bug, we basically keep it in check.”

The elimination of the SARS CoV-2 virus would be ideal, however, the interview with Dr. Divangahi suggests that there may be acceptable alternatives.

Read the full interview:

Some People’s Bodies Learn to Live With Covid-19. Elemental.Medium.com. By. Markham Heid. Sept 30, 2020.

Flu Vaccines May Inhibit COVID-19

Preliminary and not-yet-peer-reviewed studies suggest that flu vaccines may inhibit COVID-19 ‘s effect on the body. Dr. Maziar Divangahi, Associate Director of the RI-MUHC’s Meakins-Christie Laboratories, cautions against drawing the conclusion that flu vaccines prevent or diminish the effects of COVID-19 on the body. Much larger studies are required.

Numerous studies are taking place around the world to test the desired conclusion that flu vaccines do in fact inhibit COVID-19, but results that merely find correlations between behaviors and outcomes cannot establish cause and effect.

The full story can be read here: 

A Flu Shot Might Reduce Coronavirus Infections, Early Research Suggests. American Scientific. By Melinda Wenner Moyer. Oct 28, 2020