#IamIPN: Dr. Gustavo Turecki


Professor & Chair, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University
Scientific Director, Douglas Institute
Psychiatrist-in-Chief, CIUSSS ODIM


     I am a molecular biologist with a particular focus on functional genomics and epigenetics, and am also a practicing psychiatrist specializing in treatment-resistant depression. I completed my medical degree in 1994, and after a residency in psychiatry, I completed a Ph.D. in neuroscience with an emphasis on molecular genetics. My current research focuses on major depression and suicide, exploring these questions from a neurobiological point of view, and using state-of-the-art technology to investigate the biological traces of lived experiences. For example, a major topic of research in my lab is the effect that child abuse can have on the molecular regulation of the brain, and how this can influence the risk of developing severe psychiatric illness and potentially lead to suicide. My lab also investigates molecular changes associated with antidepressant response.

     I was lucky enough to be trained by exceptional scientists in a uniquely rich environment, and this is what nurtured my desire to carry out the research that I do. In addition, observations and questions arising from clinical experience have guided me all along my research career. My training, along with a desire to help alleviate the suffering of patients by better understanding mechanisms of disease, are what set the tone for my research career. Over the years, my lab has produced novel and exciting findings in molecular psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience, and we have published our work in many high impact journals. We strive to approach biological questions with a fresh outlook, testing new theories and techniques whenever we can.

     I know from experience how exciting, yet challenging, the period when one is a graduate student can be. As an IPN supervisor, I believe my role is to help my students discover how to apply rigor and discipline to their work without losing their curiosity and their creativity. I strongly encourage my students to develop collaborative approaches to the problems they face and help them broaden their professional networks through their scientific projects. All students who train in my lab are encouraged to publish their work and most students publish several papers as first authors at the end of their training. I make sure that I can guide graduate students and other members of my team to achieve what they need to succeed in their project by supporting them through a balance between independence and guidance. If I had to give my students a single piece of advice, it would be to persevere. No matter what you do, becoming an independent scientist is challenging – there are definitely times when it seems impossibly hard. Yet the rewards of succeeding justify the effort. The work of a scientist is fascinating and stimulating, and at the same time is a daily challenge. The continuous intellectual engagement, the interactions with many colleagues and the stimulating work environment are what keep me motivated every day. 

Published on December 17, 2019

Added Notes by Author: 

Gustavo Turecki is a clinician scientist who has been involved in the investigation of the neurobiology of depression and suicide, with a particular interest on functional genomics and epigenetics. Dr. Turecki’s laboratory has made important contributions to our understanding of biological processes underlying psychopathology, including the first description of molecular mechanisms explaining the impact of childhood traumatic experiences on brain function. Dr. Turecki’s work uses epidemiological, clinical, psychosocial and basic research approaches, and has significantly advanced knowledge on mechanisms leading to suicide and suicidal behaviour. In addition, his laboratory has also made important contributions to the investigation of mechanisms of antidepressant response. His laboratory produces an average of 25 papers per year, many of these in high-impact journals.

In addition to his scientific work, Dr. Turecki fulfills important local, national and international leadership roles in research, intervention and knowledge transfer in the field of suicide and depression. He is Full Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University and the Director of the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, a world-leading multidisciplinary suicide research group (www.mgss.ca) with researchers in anthropology, psychology, epidemiology, anatomy and molecular biology. The MGSS also includes as a unique international resource, the Quebec Suicide Brain Bank (now a part of the Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank; www.douglasbrainbank.ca), which sends over 1,000 brain samples to the best laboratories in the world every year.


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