Category Archives: Lung Injury and Infection

Lung Injury and Infection Theme: The respiratory system is exposed to many environmental insults throughout life that can result in acute or chronic injury to the lungs. Both infectious and non-infectious agents can trigger inflammation, which is essential to combat infections but also requires exquisite regulation to avoid counterproductive lung damage. In addition to major respiratory pathogens such as tuberculosis (TB), dysregulated inflammation triggered by bacteria and viruses is a major contributing factor to numerous respiratory diseases (e.g., cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). This theme investigates the key molecular signaling pathways underlying pulmonary inflammation under these conditions, with the goal of developing new targeted therapies and biomarkers predictive of disease responses. Our researchers are also leaders in the performance of large-scale diagnostic and treatment studies involving patients infected with TB.

Major scientific objectives for the lung injury and infection theme include: (1) Identify the key molecular effectors of innate and adaptive immunity required for an integrated response to respiratory pathogens such as influenza, TB, and cryptococcus neoformans. (2) Dissect host-pathogen interactions driving chronic infections versus acute infectious pulmonary exacerbations in chronic lung diseases (eg. Pseudomonas in cystic fibrosis). (3) Investigate the molecular underpinnings of beneficial versus pathological responses by different components of lung mucosal immunity. (4) Explore the mechanistic links between cellular metabolism and fibrogenic processes in the lung.

View posts, news, and publications related to this research theme below.

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:

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
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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

Dr. Nicole Ezer of the RI-MUHC's RESP Program is researching treatment options for COVID-19 in its early stages with mild symptoms.

Treatment Options for COVID-19

Dr. Nicole Ezer, of the RI-MUHC’s RESP Program, is looking for treatment options for COVID-19. Dr. Ezer is the lead researcher in the contain-covid.com study, an RI-MUHC trial that began in September 2020. The objective of the study is to find a medication that will keep COVID-19 patients at home longer, or ideally, eliminate the need for hospitalization completely.

Presently, Dr. Ezer is testing the efficiency of ciclesonide, an inhaled and nasal steroid drug currently used for asthma and nasal rhinitis, as one of the treatment options for COVID-19 in its early stages, or for patients with milder symptoms.

Dr. Ezer believes we will never be completely free of COVID-19, as vaccines are never 100% effective. Therefore it is important to have treatment options available, and to keep patients out of hospital whenever possible.

Dr. Ezer was interviewed about her research – the full story can be read here:

Steroids, inhalers and ventilators: What Quebec doctors are learning about COVID-19. CBC News. By Leah Hendry, Benjamin Shingler. Oct 27, 2020.

McGill Research Centre for Cannabis, led by Dr. Carolyn Baglole, establishes a CBD Research Partnership Fund to mark the second anniversary of cannabis legalization in Canada

CBD Research Partnership Fund

A CBD Research Partnership Fund has been launched by the Association québécoise de l’industrie du cannabis (AQIC) and the McGill Research Centre for Cannabis. Dr. Carolyn Baglole, Director of the McGill Research Centre for Cannabis, believes this increased research funding will result in increased safety and effectiveness of medical CBD.

“We are pleased to partner with the AQIC in a project that provides much-needed financial support for CBD research, the results of which ultimately will give a better understanding of the safety and efficacy of CBD. A partnership between McGill and the private sector will allow us to combine resources, thereby raising the bar of scientific discovery, and the promise that medical cannabis holds.”

Dr. Carolyn Baglole

The launch of this CBD Research Partnership Fund marks the second anniversary of the legalization of the use of cannabis in Canada.

Read the full article:

Advancing the Safety and Efficacy of Cannabidiol (CBD) for Medical Use AQIC and the McGill Research Centre for Cannabis Establish a CBD Research Partnership Fund. McGill’s Health e-News. Oct 19, 2020. Photo credit: Association québécoise de l’industrie du cannabis (AQIC)

Dr. Carolyn Baglole on the impact of legalization on cannabis research in Canada

The Future of Cannabis Research

Dr. Carolyn Baglole of the Meakins-Christie Laboratories talks about the future of cannabis research in Canada, and how legalization has had a positive impact in this field. Funding opportunities have increased considerably and barriers to research, such as access to different cannabis products, have diminished. Stigmas surrounding medical cannabis continue to exist, but the future of cannabis research in Canada is evident.

Julie Quenneville, President of the McGill University Health Centre Foundation, recently spoke to Dr. Baglole on CJAD as part of the Health Matters series.

Where to listen: