Professor Boris Bernhardt, Associate Prof, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a crucial technique for understanding brain anatomy and function. In recent years, the growing availability of open-source analytical tools has been critical in bringing together findings from different types of imaging techniques to pave the way towards a deeper understanding of the human brain. The overall goal of this project is to introduce the IMPRESS student(s) to reproducible and robust open-science practices in neuroimaging. Specifically, the student(s) will have the opportunity to develop new skills by: (1) applying MRI-processing techniques to newly acquired brain-imaging data; (2) understanding and implementing best practices in neuroinformatics tool development, notably through detailed documentation of all the code and procedures used to process this data; and (3) designing new analysis strategies for longitudinal functional and structural data. We seek to implement this codebase within ‘micapipe’—a specialized pipeline developed by our lab for processing multimodal MRI data. This initiation to MRI-data processing, and open-science practices more generally, will prepare the student(s) to carry out future studies in computational neuroscience using established procedures to improve the transparency and reproducibility of new findings.
Student prerequisites: Programming, or at least computer affinity, is an asset.
Professor Boris Bernhardt, Associate Prof, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine
Applying artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to help detect and diagnose disease is a burgeoning area of research in the field of epilepsy. Due to the novelty of AI-epilepsy research, little has been done to rigorously review the existing literature, critically appraise the research methods and combine the findings. Although AI algorithms can be applied to data collected in many different ways, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a widespread technique that represents a major focus. The goal of this project is to conduct a systematic review of AI algorithms used to analyze MRI scans of adult (>=18 years) vs. pediatric (<18 years) epilepsy patients for lesion detection, epilepsy diagnosis, prognosis and other related outcomes.
The search strategy will be developed prior to student onboarding. It will include keywords derived from scoping search and expertise in the subject field. The IMPRESS student will act as a reviewer for title, abstract and full-text screening. They will also conduct data extraction and participate in data analysis, which is expected to be finished prior to the end of the summer term. Depending on the speed of progress, the student may also have the opportunity to practice their scientific writing skills and contribute to the publication of an article.
Student prerequisites: Familiarity with data analysis is an asset.
Professor Brian Chen, Associate Professor, Neurology and Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine
The IMPRESS student(s) will be involved in a project to uncover the molecules involved in hardwiring a neural circuit. They will receive training in cell and molecular biology, molecular genetics, and cellular and molecular neurobiology.
Laboratory Safety Training provided
Cecilia Flores, Professor, Psychiatry, Neurology and Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine
MicroRNAs are small molecules that repress the expression of genes and their protein products. The regulation of gene and protein expression by microRNAs in the brain represents an emerging link between exposure to drugs of abuse in adolescence and changes in ongoing brain development. In our lab, we use rodents to study whether exposure in adolescence to the main psychoactive compound in cannabis—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—alters the development of the brain by changing the expression of microRNAs. Our lab studies a microRNA called miR-218 because it controls the expression of genes that play a critical role in the formation of brain connections during adolescence. Most microRNAs, including miR-218, are stable molecules secreted from brain cells into the bloodstream, where they can be measured.
This project will involve investigating whether observed changes in brain miR-218 can be detected in circulating blood to determine if peripheral miR-218 can be used as a marker for vulnerability to the disruptive effects of cannabis on brain development. Our research team will train the IMPRESS student on laboratory techniques and experimental approaches. The student will: 1) receive training on mouse handling; 2) assist with the collection of brain and blood samples; 3) learn how to pipette and develop other lab skills needed to process samples for microRNA-level assessment; and 4) receive training on and assist with data collection and statistical analysis. The student will learn techniques in molecular biology and become familiar with scientific writing, critical thinking and data analysis. They will also be required to attend our lab meetings and journal clubs.
Professor Ziv Gan-Or, Assistant Professor, Neurology and Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine
The IMPRESS student will work on a project aimed at discovering genetic mutations that increase the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders. Specifically, they will study a gene called GBA1; mutations in this gene have been reported in different populations with Parkinson's disease and similar disorders at frequencies of 5-30%. The student will perform basic experiments to identify variants of this gene and will help with analyzing the results.
Student Prerequisites: Basic knowledge of genetics is preferred
Professor Jean-Francois Poulin, Assistant Professor, Neurology and Neurosurgery, Faculty of Medicine
This project will look at whether the interaction of retinoic acid (RA) and interferons (IFN) contributes to cell death in a particular subset of dopamine (DA) neurons that express the protein ALDH1A1, an enzyme involved in the synthesis of RA. These neurons are located in the brain region most affected by Parkinson’s disease (PD), the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc). Increasing evidence from mouse models of PD and human post-mortem analyses show that this cell subset is especially vulnerable to neurodegeneration. The IMPRESS student will investigate this molecular pathway in SH-SY5Y cells, which can be differentiated into DA neurons. More precisely, the student will treat SH-SY5Y cells with different regimens of RA and IFN, as well as a combination of both treatments, and will evaluate the extent of resulting cell death. Since there is currently no treatment to stop or slow the progression of PD—the second most common neurodegenerative disorder with an estimated 10 million individuals affected worldwide—understanding the molecular pathways underlying the loss of DA neurons is critical to discovering disease-modifying therapies.
Students will receive training in laboratory safety
Professor Blake Richards, Assistant Professor, Neurology and Neurosurgery + School of Computer Science
This research project will involve helping a graduate student with their research on incorporating Indigenous knowledge into artificial intelligence (AI) systems. The IMPRESS student will help the graduate student to build 3D simulations for training AI systems that are shaped by Indigenous stories and practices. They will also help train AI models in this environment. The work will involve both the use of a software suite for creating Unity-based simulations and some computer programming.
Student prerequisite: Some knowledge of programming would be ideal, particularly in Python.
Professor Stuart Trenholm, Assistant Professor, Montreal Neurological Institute
Mice are a leading model in visual neuroscience, but we still know little about how their visual system processes the world. The IMPRESS student(s) will learn to handle mice, train them to perform visual discrimination tasks, and conduct experiments to study their visual perception. Experiments will utilize operant reward chambers with touchscreen visual displays.
Additional training will be provided including an online animal-use course, an in-person mouse-handling course and some other general workplace-safety courses (eg. WHMIS)
Professor Srividya N. Iyer, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry
Integrated Youth Services (IYS) have emerged as an international movement for addressing the priorities of youth mental health. However, the failure to consider the context of colonization and assimilation has led to youth programs and services in Canada that do not adequately meet the needs of Indigenous youth. ACCESS Open Minds (AOM) is a pan-Canadian youth mental health research network aimed at improving access to mental-health services for youth ages 11-25. The network includes six Indigenous community partners and an Indigenous Council that inform the implementation of AOM services. Youth mental health programming centred on First Nation or Inuit wellness models incorporate Indigenous communities’ culture and healing programs guided by Elders/Traditional healers. IYS have the potential to address the persistent inequities in the mental health outcomes of Indigenous youth while aligning with Indigenous Peoples’ calls for self-determination. This project aims to: (1) combine “wise practices” and recommendations for developing, implementing and evaluating a transformation of youth mental health services in Indigenous contexts across Canada; and (2) identify various barriers and facilitators to developing, implementing and evaluating services in these contexts. The IMPRESS student will help develop a narrative case study for each AOM site through document analysis (e.g., policy presentations, community-level reports, community reflections and peer literature) and photo elicitation interviews with youth and key community stakeholders. They will also assist with semi-structured interviews with members of AOM, Elders, Indigenous researchers and service providers to understand: (1) how to adapt wise practices to support youth services in Indigenous contexts; and (2) the role of learning health systems in Indigenous service contexts.
Training provided in Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAPTM) principles
Professor Martin Lepage, James McGill Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
This project involves investigating the feasibility and acceptance of 360-degree virtual-reality (VR) technology and potentially launching a co-designed intervention program integrating natural landscapes, heritage sites and cultural activities. Central to the project is the idea that there are potential therapeutic applications in making these environments available virtually during hospitalization. These include improving the relationship between a patient and their care providers and decreasing distress associated with being away from one’s community. We would like to inform and consult with Indigenous individuals who have been using psychiatric services in Montreal. Study participants would have the opportunity to address any challenges they experienced during psychiatric care, aspects they would wish to change and how they want those changes to happen. They would also be invited to discuss if/how 360-degree VR could help in their clinical processes, overall well-being and engagement with services. The aim is for this to be an Indigenous and patient co-created project. It will involve conducting mixed-methods participatory research during advisory focus groups. The IMPRESS student will work with the team to develop participant recruitment strategies, collect data and learn to analyze that data, should time allow. They will learn about participatory qualitative research and 360 VR technology. They will also attend research meetings with lab members. The research team will support and encourage the student to prepare a poster or oral presentation on their research.
Students will receive training in research with human participants (e.g., confidentiality, research integrity, etc.)
Professor Rachel Rabin, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry
his project will use a previously collected data set to compare cognitive function (e.g., memory performance) and brain structure (e.g., gray matter volume of the hippocampus) between aging adults (>50 years old) who use cannabis and those with no history of cannabis use. Following the relaxation of cannabis laws in Canada and the United States, rates of cannabis use have increased, and older adults (50 years and older) represent the fastest growing population of cannabis users. A desire to manage age-related diseases and their side effects may, in part, contribute to the increase in cannabis use among people in this age group. Studies in adolescents and adults demonstrate that cannabis use is associated with cognitive impairment, particularly with respect to memory. Changes that occur with normal aging—such as cognitive decline, hippocampal atrophy, slower metabolism and the onset of various disorders—may alter how cannabis interacts with the brain and may render aging adults particularly sensitive to the cognitive and neurodegenerative effects of cannabis use. The IMPRESS student will be responsible for extracting, analyzing and interpreting data. For motivated students, preparation of a manuscript would also be a possibility. Findings from this study will help inform aging adults about the consequences of cannabis use on cognitive and brain outcomes.
Professor Geneviève Sauvé, Assistant Professor and Researcher, Douglas Research Center, Department of Psychiatry
It is estimated that 70–90% of people living with severe mental illness (SMI; e.g., psychosis) are unemployed, despite most of them having the desire and capacity to work. This under-representation in the labour market persists despite evidence-based employment-support programs. Given the central role of work in the recovery process, our team has developed a new psychosocial intervention based on our prior research—called ‘Minds@Work’—which aims at improving job tenure for people living with SMI. People from Indigenous communities reportedly face similar challenges regarding employment and mental illness. While specialized programs are available across Canada (e.g., Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Strategy), people belonging to Indigenous communities still experience high rates of inequities in income, mental health services and unemployment rates. The aim of this project is to develop partnerships with interested Indigenous communities and collaboratively develop a culturally-competent and safe adaptation of ‘Minds@Work’ that will benefit them and honor their culture and philosophies. The IMPRESS student(s) will be involved in a qualitative participatory approach to research and will help prepare, moderate and analyze focus groups to investigate potential predictors of employment (e.g., cognitive capacities, cognitive biases). They will also help conduct a systematic search of the literature and meta-analysis aimed at combining knowledge about existing interventions and their efficacy using a logic model methodology. The study will follow guidelines from the First Nations in Quebec and Labrador’s Research Protocol, and the data will belong and be accessible to community partners as per the First Nations Principles of OCAP.
All required training will be provided by the Principal Investigator (e.g., good practices in documentation).