#IamIPN: Meagan Collins


Meagan is an M.Sc. student in the IPN. Her research project involves studying the genetics and molecular mechanisms underlying Congenital Mirror Movements. Meagan is in the lab of Dr. M. Srour (at the RI-Glen), and is co-supervised by Dr. Z. Kibar (CHU-Sainte Justine). 


Welcome to #IamIPN, Meagan! Would you like to share with us why you chose to study in the IPN at McGill University? 

I chose to pursue my graduate studies in the IPN at McGill because of the longstanding history of scholarship and excellence, as well as the immensely collaborative research environment in Montreal. During my Master's, I have conducted research at three different research centers across Montreal. This experience has allowed me to fully grasp all that collaborative research efforts entail and maximize my research potential by utilizing the vast resources available to me. Coming from rural Virginia in the U.S. to the diverse, vibrant city of Montreal was another ‘plus’ for deciding to pursue my studies at McGill.


Please briefly describe your research. What is the source of inspiration behind your study?

I study a rare neurodevelopmental disorder known as Congenital Mirror Movements (CMM). Mirror Movements occur when voluntary movements from one side of the body are mirrored by involuntary movements on opposite side of the body. For example, if a patient taps the fingers of their left hand together, their right hand will perform the same movement involuntarily. Patients with CMM often have trouble with performing unimanual tasks, such as opening jars, typing, and writing. I am working to validate genetic variants in CMM patients, help identify candidate genes, and perform functional studies in zebrafish.

The patients are my source of inspiration. Working with one of my co-supervisors, Dr. Myriam Srour, a clinician-researcher, has provided me with several opportunities to interact with and engage CMM patients. We have even partnered with a patient family here in Québec to launch a Facebook group (Mouvement des mains miroirs Québec) to promote awareness for CMM.


That's awesome! What are the real-life implications of your research?

Mutations in four genes have been associated with CMM cases (DCC, RAD51, NTN1 and DNAL4). Together, these genes explain only approximately one third of cases, indicating the presence of additional genes contributing to CMM. The discovery of novel CMM genes is important to patients, as this allows for more accurate diagnoses and genetic counseling. Additionally, by understanding the disease mechanisms of CMM and the underlying deficits of lateralization, we can work toward developing novel strategies to promote guidance and re-wiring of damaged axons and improve targeted rehabilitation approaches that can also be used in more common neurologic connectivity disorders.

CMM is considered an orphan disease with no known effective treatments. With over 35 individuals diagnosed with CMM in Quebec alone, our research can help to further the public’s knowledge of this disease and directly impact the community.


Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist.

One turning point in my career as a scientist occurred last year when I decided that I would like to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. I am currently in the process of completing applications to begin the transition into the medical field. Through clinical observations and patient interactions, I decided that I would like to both conduct medical research and serve patients directly.


Have you received awards/funding during your time in the IPN?

I have received the Grand défi Pierre Lavoie Foundation Graduate Student Scholarship (2019-2020), McGill University Faculty of Medicine Internal Studentship Award (2019-2020), UQAM CERMO-FC Graduate Scholarship (2018), and the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation Fellowship.

My project is also funded by CIHR, Rare Disease Models and Mechanisms Network, and SickKids Foundation.


Congratulations! How has your graduate experience been like thus far?

My graduate experience has been extremely rewarding. Through the research community here in Montreal, I have been exposed to so many different facets of neuroscience and other scientific fields.


Is there a course or significant event in the IPN that has markedly changed you?

Dr. Alanna Watt's course on the Genetic Approaches to Neural Systems was one of the most influential courses that I have ever taken. Dr. Watt did an exceptional job engaging her students. Through this course, I harnessed the invaluable skill of being able to read and breakdown scientific literature from a variety of fields.


What do you like to work on, aside from your research?

Aside from my primary research on CMM, I have also been involved in several clinical research projects for other rare diseases. In addition to my primary and clinical research efforts, I enjoy volunteering with BrainReach North. I even had the opportunity to interview Senator Lillian Eva Dyck, an accomplished scientist and Canada's first female First Nations and Chinese Canadian Senator, while volunteering with BrainReach North.


Given the COVID-19 pandemic, how has your daily life as a researcher and student altered? What has the pandemic taught you about the field of science and research?

The COVID-19 pandemic has directly impacted so many aspects of our lives. I am so grateful for all of the frontline workers who have sacrificed so much and who have served as the backbone of our communities around the world.

For me, personally, I used the period of lab closures to write my thesis and work on a few clinical manuscripts for publication. In addition, I chose to volunteer remotely with the Medical Reserve Corps of Virginia, serving as a virtual contact tracer. In this role, I have helped to combat the spread of COVID-19 in my local community back in Virginia by relaying test results to patients and determining close contacts. Now that the labs have reopened, I am finalizing my last experiments for my Master's project.

The pandemic has taught me just how important scientific research and science communications are. From the fast-tracking of vaccine candidates to researching potential treatments and therapies, basic science fields have been at the forefront of combating COVID-19. Scientists have also done a terrific job of sharing data publicly during this time to promote collaborative research. Also, in this time of uncertainty and fear, we have witnessed the direct impact of science communications. We need scientists to clearly and effectively disseminate research results so that we can better inform the public and improve health outcomes.


Thank you for sharing the importance of team work and open communication given the current situation. Wishing you all the best in your endeavours, Meagan. 



Published on August 11, 2020


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