Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update – July 15, 2021 / Le point sur la maladie à coronavirus (COVID-19) – Le 15 juillet 2021
On July 12, the Canadian government announced new measures to protect research by our country’s academic community. In the first phase, the announced measures will only affect applicants to the NSERC Alliance Grant program, which requires partnering with industry. However, the government made it clear that other granting programs may also fall under increased scrutiny after an evaluation of this first phase takes place.Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister for Innovation, does not anticipate severe backlogs from new risk assessment processes.
In the short term, all applications to the NSERC Alliance Grant program will need to undergo a risk assessment – that may include a risk mitigation plan – and projects that are determined by NSERC to be high risk with insufficient mitigation measures will not be funded. This assessment may also affect projects that have already submitted applications, so researchers can expect delays to the funding process. However, the federal Minister for Innovation Francois-Philippe Champagne explained in an interview with the CBC that the ministry has accounted for this potential and that the backlogs will not be severe.
Looking ahead, these enhanced security checks may affect applications to all granting councils as well as the Canadian Foundation for Innovation grants. In other words, it’s a new reality for researchers, which may take some adjustment. Martha Crago, Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation, is well aware of these changes and offers support to the McGill research community.
“There is no doubt we are living through complex times, and we must learn to adapt to these changes,” she explained. “However, researchers should know that they are not alone in facing these issues, and the University has multiple resources to help guide them through these revised processes. We are here to help.”Martha Crago, VP (Research & Innovation), says the University is ready to help researchers navigate new risk assessment processes.
In the case of the NSERC Alliance Grants, for example, researchers are urged to get in touch with the Industry Partnerships officer in the Office of Innovation and Partnerships who worked with them to prepare their proposal; they will help find answers to their questions, with the support of Mark Weber, Director of Innovation and Partnerships, and Benoit Boulet, Associate Vice-Principal Research and Innovation. In addition, the federal government will host information sessions on these new measures in the near future; details will be announced shortly.
It also bears mentioning that these new requirements did not materialize from a vacuum. They were the outcome of the 90-day process that the Government of Canada-Universities Working Group began in March, a process that included consultation with Universities Canada, the U15, and a number of Vice-Presidents of Research.
Research and Innovation will monitor this topic closely and will communicate with researchers when new measures are announced, and when the information sessions are scheduled.
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In 2019, an independent report commissioned by the City of Montreal demonstrated racial and social profiling by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) targeting Black, Arab and Indigenous peoples, and young adults in particular. According to the data, Indigenous and Black people are four to five times more likely to be stopped by police than non-racialized people.
Montrealers will now be able to self-report their police stop experiences and contribute to an interactive map through the STOPMTL.ca website. Launched recently by a multidisciplinary research team from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), McGill University, Concordia University and University College London, STOPMTL.ca aims at gathering detailed data to form a more accurate picture of police stops from citizens’ perspective.
The team’s scientific objectives are to produce a report on the project and on the validity of the data. In addition, the data from STOPMTL.ca will contribute to ongoing research on the impact of crime in general (victimization, police presence, sense of security, etc.) on mental health and quality of life indicators such as mobility in neighbourhoods.First of its kind platform for citizens to report their experiences
The STOPMTL.ca website is part of a research project that aims to produce quantitative data to map out on the social and physical distribution of police stops in Montreal. This is crucial resource for citizens, communities, and researchers, since only 5 to 20 per cent of the police stops made are recorded by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM).
“We want to get a better picture of the police-citizen relationship, because it is a critical social issue. This research and citizen science project will rely entirely upon open data, all data will be accessible and downloadable by anybody who wants to use it.” says the project’s lead researcher, Carolyn Côté-Lussier, who is a professor of urban studies at the INRS and a researcher at the International Centre for Comparative Criminology.
People aged 15 and over will be able to report any police stop on the same day, months or 20 years ago, using an anonymous form. Each user will be able to indicate how and where the stop took place, give the context, specify their age, gender, ethnic or racial group, and their activity or means of transportation during the stop.Addressing community and scientific needs
“This project will provide much needed information for citizens, as well as police, as it will provide a visual representation of the so-called hot spots where most citizen-police stops occur and could result in meaningful police-citizen conversations based on evidence rather than hearsay,” explains Myrna Lashley, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill. “The results of this study could assist policy makers and politicians to determine in which geographical areas to best invest resources, thus better meeting the needs of citizens.”
STOPMTL.ca is supported by the First Peoples Justice Center of Montréal, the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, Maison d’Haïti, the Conseil Interculturel de Montréal, the Conseil Jeunesse de Montréal, as well as the Borough of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
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The Arctic is warming at approximately twice the global rate. A new study led by researchers from McGill University finds that cold-adapted Arctic species, like the thick-billed murre, are especially vulnerable to heat stress caused by climate change.
“We discovered that murres have the lowest cooling efficiency ever reported in birds, which means they have an extremely poor ability to dissipate or lose heat,” says lead author Emily Choy, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Natural Resource Sciences Department at McGill University.
Following reports of the seabirds dying in their nests on sunny days, the researchers trekked the cliffs of Coats Island in northern Hudson Bay to study a colony of 30,000 breeding pairs. They put the birds’ heat tolerance to the test and found that the animals showed signs of stress at temperatures as low as 21C.
Until now few studies have explored the direct effects of warming temperatures on Arctic wildlife. The study, published in Journal of Experimental Biology, is the first to examine heat stress in large Arctic seabirds.Bigger not always better
By measuring breathing rates and water loss as the murres were subjected to increasing temperatures, the researchers found that larger birds were more sensitive to heat stress than smaller birds.
Weighing up to one kilogram, murres have a very high metabolic rate relative to their size, meaning when they pant or flap their wings to cool off, they expend a very high amount of energy, producing even more heat.
These seabirds nest in dense colonies, often breeding shoulder to shoulder along the narrow ledges of cliffs. Male and female birds take turns nesting on 12-hour shifts. According to the researchers, the thick-billed murres’ limited heat tolerance may explain their mortalities on warm weather days.
“Overheating is an important and understudied effect of climate change on Arctic wildlife,” says Choy. “Murres and potentially other Arctic species are poorly adapted for coping with warming temperatures, which is important as the Arctic continues to warm.”
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On July 15, the Federal government announced the 2021-2022 recipients of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships. Canada’s most prestigious awards for doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, these awards support the next generation of research leaders, spanning the health sciences, natural sciences and engineering, and social sciences and humanities.
Twenty-six McGill graduate students earned Vanier Scholarships, worth $50,000 each year for three years of study and research. The four McGill Banting Fellows each receive $70,000 a year for up to two years of research.
“The great challenges our world is facing right now, like COVID-19 and a changing climate, have emphasized just how important science and research are in our society,” said François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “Here in Canada, we have some of the world’s most highly accomplished scientists and researchers. The recipients of this year’s Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships could not be more deserving of these prestigious awards. They will bring critical new insights to their fields, help ensure that cutting-edge discoveries and innovations continue to propel Canada as a global leader, and contribute to a healthier, greener, more equitable and more prosperous future.”
“To build Canada’s world-class research ecosystem, we must foster the development of Canada’s next generation of researchers,” said Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health. “These talented individuals have bright futures ahead of them and will make discoveries that make life better for Canadians. Congratulations to this year’s Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships recipients. We are so excited to see what you will do next.”Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships
The Vanier CGS program was launched in 2008 to help Canadian institutions attract and retain highly qualified doctoral students in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, and health research. Vanier Scholars demonstrate leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and/or engineering and health.
“As Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, it gives me great pride to see the outstanding achievements of McGill doctoral students who earn national recognition,” said Dean Josephine Nalbantoglu. “Vanier Scholars are chosen not only for their academic excellence, but for their research potential and leadership; Vanier Scholars are therefore well-positioned to make lasting and meaningful contributions to their areas of study and to the communities they belong to, including McGill. This year’s cohort of Vanier Scholars are a testament to the level of student excellence McGill attracts.
McGill’s 2021 Vanier Scholars and a synopsis of their research:
Anish Arora, Family Medicine
Co-Developing & Piloting a New Model of Care Delivery for Migrant People Living with HIV in Montréal
Anish Arora is a PhD student in family medicine and primary care at McGill University. He holds an MSc specialized in medical education from McGill University and an Honours BSc in biology with a minor in psychology from McMaster University. His doctoral work, supervised by Dr. Bertrand Lebouché, focuses on configuring and piloting a smartphone-based patient portal application, OPAL, for use by migrant people living with HIV and their multidisciplinary care providers at the Chronic Viral Illness Service of the McGill University Health Centre. As part of a new digital model of HIV care delivery, OPAL is predicted to improve HIV self-management by migrant patients, reduce impediments to their retention in care, and improve their satisfaction with care. Alongside mixed methods, Anish adopts a participatory research approach to meaningfully engage patients and other stakeholders in his work.
Julia Baak, Natural Resource Science
Using movement ecology to quantify biotransport of plastics and plastic-related contaminants into the Arctic by gulls
Almost half of seabird species worldwide ingest plastic, even in remote regions such as the Arctic. Plastic pollution can have physical impacts on seabirds through ingestion and entanglement, but can also be a source of contaminants, such as flame retardants. As top predators, seabirds can be used as indicators of plastics and plastic-related contaminants in the marine environment. Glaucous gulls and black-legged kittiwakes are circumpolar Arctic seabirds that are used as indicators of contaminants in northern wildlife, but data are limited for both species in the Arctic, at a time when human activity is growing in these regions, increasing exposure to contaminants. My research investigates the quantity, transport and impacts of plastic and plastic-related contaminants on Arctic gulls. My research will create a baseline for monitoring plastic pollution in Arctic seabirds, identify potential hotspots for this environmental contaminant, and assess how plastic pollution impacts seabirds in a rapidly changing Arctic.
Robert Bogue, Earth and Planetary Sciences
Volcanic ecosystems: recorders of the past, glimpses of the future
As magma rises through Earth’s crust it releases large amounts of carbon dioxide gas, which is transmitted to the surface along fault lines and eventually released into the atmosphere. These gas emissions can provide crucial information about volcanic activity, but they are often difficult to measure because they can be spread out over large areas and are difficult to detect directly with satellites. Trees growing on volcanoes are exposed to this volcanic carbon dioxide and utilize it for photosynthesis. My research focuses on using multiple approaches to detect tree responses to volcanic carbon dioxide as a proxy for volcanic activity, and to understand how ecosystems may respond to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the future. My projects range from satellite detection of vegetation health in hydrothermal areas of Yellowstone to reconstructing decades of carbon dioxide emissions by measuring variations in carbon isotopes in tree samples from Ecuador.
(Photo courtesy of Regina Gonzalez Moguel)
Jonathan Brassard, Biological and Biomedical Engineering
Fabrication of a vascularized bioartificial pancreas using macroencapsulation of stem cell-derived pancreatic islet cells for the treatment of type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes affects more than 300,000 Canadians and its impact continues to rise in Canada and the world. Transplantation of pancreatic islets is a promising strategy to treat diabetic patients because it can eliminate their dependence on external insulin sources for many months. A critical problem with this approach is graft rejection, a process where your own immune system attacks the newly transplanted tissue and destroys it. To address this issue, we are fabricating a small device that can encapsulate islets and protect them from immune destruction. To optimize survival of the graft, our device contains hollow channels that can enhanced diffusion of nutrients after transplantation. With our approach, the islets inside the device will take on the function of the patient’s failing pancreas, producing the insulin needed to regulate blood sugar level.
Emmalin Buajitti, Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health
Neighbourhood environmental exposures and their associated health risks: evidence and policy implications for urban health and health equity from Accra, Ghana
In settings undergoing rapid development, features of the urban neighborhood environment may be implicated in worsening health inequalities as cities expand and the urban poor become increasingly dispossessed. Policymakers in those cities, such as Accra, Ghana, face a growing need for evidence to support healthy and equitable development. My research will focus on identifying risk factors in the neighbourhood environment that can be targeted to improve population health and reduce health inequalities in Accra. I will use methods from epidemiology and geography to generate empirical evidence about neighbourhoods and their role in urban health. In partnership with policymakers and other local experts, I will support the co-creation of viable, innovative policy solutions with the potential to improve the neighbourhood environment and build healthier and more equitable cities around the world.
(Photo courtesy of Rae L. Jewett)
Luisa Castaneda Quintana, Law
Extracting culture: the reshaping of Wiwa people’s identity in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Luisa Castaneda-Quintana is a Colombian lawyer with a master’s degree in Administrative Law from the Libre University in Colombia and an LLM in Comparative Law and Economics from the University of Turin and IUC in Italy. Castaneda-Quintana’s doctoral thesis, supervised by Professor Victor Muniz-Fraticelli, is tentatively entitled: Extracting culture: the reshaping of Wiwa people’s identity in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The doctoral work focuses on legal pluralism, extractive industries, and Indigenous Peoples’ identity. Specifically, she analyzes how the Wiwa people’s interactions with different normative orders in the context of extractivism have transformed their identity and forged various forms of resistance.
(Photo courtesy of Julian Hernández)
Jeremy Desjarlais, English
Being and Longing: The Ontology of Linguistics and Reconciliation in Indigenous and Canadian Long Poetry
Indigenous and Canadian peoples are eager for a literature that responds to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, as a means of validating and authenticating its recommendations. A report from the Commission unwaveringly states: “The urgent need for reconciliation runs deep in Canada” (114). My dissertation combines Canadian long poets of Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage – Louise Bernice Halfe, Jordan Abel, bpNichol, and Steven Ross Smith – for the purposes of examining the development and lineage of the contemporary long poem. Through the theme of reconciliation, these poets address issues of ontology and demonstrate the presence of longing through language. The length, immensity, and enormity of these vast works permit the deepest elements of being: language, expression, and the emotional aspects of existence (longing, loss, desire, compulsion). Undergirding all of these poets’ works is a longing to reconcile, on an individual, communal, and national level.
Arna Ghosh, Computer Science
A Biologically-plausible Deep Learning framework to model self-supervised learning in the visual cortex
My research broadly aims to bridge the gap between artificial intelligence (AI) systems and the brain. Despite the remarkable progress in the fields of computer vision, current AI systems fail to match the ability of brains to learn from limited amounts of labelled data, thus restricting the applications of modern AI in various promising domains like healthcare. My research aims to develop biologically inspired systems that can mimic the brain’s ability to learn from unlabeled data, i.e. perform self-supervised learning. Specifically, we aim to imbibe the predictive coding principle in AI models, such that the system is able to make predictions of upcoming stimulus given its current belief about the environment. Furthermore, we aim to develop learning rules that are feasible in biological systems. In doing so, we hope to develop a biologically plausible learning framework that can be used by neuroscientists to improve our understanding of the brain.
(Photo courtesy of Zahraa Chorghay)
Victoria Glynn, Biology
Host-microbe co-evolution in Tropical Eastern Pacific corals as a potential source of resilience to environmental stress
Due to climate change, one-third of coral species risk extinction by the end of this century. Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth, supporting over 25 per cent of marine life. Within a single coral polyp, all domains of life can be found in symbiosis with coral, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. I use Panama’s Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) as a natural laboratory to assess coral resilience from the perspective of host-microbe co-evolution, as here corals experience drastic annual fluctuations in temperature, pH, oxygen, and nutrients, due to seasonal upwelling; upwelling is when cold, nutrient-rich water displaces warmer, less nutrient-rich surface water. As such, the TEP’s ecologically-dominant coral species, Pocillopora damicornis, persists under conditions expected to mirror future environments. My research is the first to employ Panama’s upwelling gradient to discern the strategies corals and their microorganisms can implement to persist in a warmer, high CO2 future.
Yeganeh, Habibi, Chemistry
Shedding Light on Novel Antibiotic Discovery: Investigating the Relationship of Structural Dynamics and Catalytic Function in Lanthipeptide Synthetases, Enzymes Involved in Antibiotic Synthesis
Shortly after the widespread introduction of antibiotics into clinical practice in the 1940s, the bacterial pathogens that cause sickness in humans began evolving resistance mechanisms that render antibiotics ineffective, leading to a global health crisis. Fortunately, nature offers many potential solutions to this problem. Indeed, most of the antibiotics used for medicinal purposes in humans are chemical compounds produced by living organisms as molecules for self-defence. These “natural products” often have highly complex and ornate chemical structures that can make chemical synthesis of the compound difficult. However, the biosynthetic enzymes that construct natural products in the producing organism often do so with astounding catalytic efficiency and specificity. My research aims to understand – on a molecular level – how these enzyme catalysts synthesize antimicrobial natural products. This information can ultimately assist in the design of catalysts and biosynthetic pathways that construct novel antibacterial compounds using renewable natural resources.
(Photo courtesy of Ehsan Hamzehpoor)
Anna Halepaska, Civil and Mechanical Engineering
Integrated biomaterials for net carbon storage in buildings
No photo or synopsis was available.
Alberto Herrero Babiloni, Experimental Medicine
Acute effects of non-invasive repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in the management of chronic orofacial pain and problematic opioid use
Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are common chronic pain conditions of the face and jaw that impact significantly the well-being and quality of life of people suffering from them. Chronic TMD pain is challenging to treat, and many patients do not respond well to usual treatments. Moreover, medications such as opioids are associated with different risks and side-effects. In this project, “Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation” (rTMS), a safe and non-invasive technique used to stimulate the brain and potentially change neurons, will be used attempting to decrease pain and deleterious opioid outcomes. We expect that rTMS decreases pain intensity, pain interference, and opioid problems such as craving, withdrawal and misuse in TMD participants. This project is novel and important, as its findings could support the use of a new and safe treatment for improving pain, opioid problems, and suffering associated to TMD.
(Photo courtesy of Natalia Cordero)
Suleima Jacob-Tomas, Biochemistry
Uncovering mechanisms to tune local translation during neurodevelopment
Neurodevelopment encompasses multiple changes in the architecture and composition of neurons, which are fundamental to establish functional circuits in the mature brain. This complex process requires each neuron to compartmentalize functions. The creation of diverse functional hubs relies on a decentralized gene expression system. Consequently, messenger RNAs are transported to different compartments to be locally translated into proteins, the functional molecules in cells. Even so, how components of the translation machinery regulate their local production to support protein synthesis is not known.
My doctoral research aims to study the local production of the protein synthesis machinery in the developing neuron using single molecule fluorescence microscopy techniques. Regulating the localization and local translation of mRNAs encoding for translation factors provides the means to address neuronal compartmentalization during development. We expect to uncover novel molecular basis to understand neuronal functionality in the adult brain.
(Photo courtesy of Lokha Ranjani Alagar Boopathy)
Amanda Keller, Social Work
Life after residential care: a retrospective narrative analysis project examining the life stories of those who aged out of youth protection-based residential care in later adulthood
I have an academic interest in multiple domains across the social service and mental health care systems, with a particular interest in examining clinical interventions for childhood trauma. My dissertation employs narrative analysis with a feminist and strengths-based perspective to investigate the life trajectories of adults age 40+ raised in group-care child welfare placements. I am to document the actual and complete transition to adulthood and provide insights into their difficulties and clinical needs across the lifespan while sharing their stories for social justice purposes. Because of the well-known intergenerational transference of trauma, this exploratory study will likely capture other insights beyond its central focus, including the research participants’ interactions with parenting and their families of origin. This novel inquiry on life development is the second study to my knowledge, which examines this age group’s insights and the first within Canada.
Marjolaine Lamontagne, Political Science
State Sovereignty in Practice: the Paradiplomatic Practices of Non-Sovereign Representatives in Multilateral Fields
Who speaks on behalf of citizens internationally? If the coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it is that regional and federated governments are constitutionally responsible for, and hold distinctive views on, a great number of global issues, including healthcare, environmental politics, and the protection of cultural diversity. Yet, international law excludes them from multilateral organizations where global debates are held, and national and multilateral officials are reluctant to acknowledge their growing participation in international politics.
My thesis research will investigate the transformation of diplomatic practices in multilateral organizations and forums where substate actors increasingly assume a formal and informal presence. Among other methods, I will interview diplomatic representatives from substate and national governments to apprehend the informal “ways of doing things” and “background assumptions” that contribute to the reproduction of state sovereignty beyond institutions and political discourse. The goal will be to examine if and how the balance of political legitimacy and the distribution of diplomatic tasks between central and substate governments are changing in the era of globalization, and what are the effects of this transition on global and national governance.
Chenghao Liu, Chemistry
Exploring the Third Dimension in Two-dimensional Polymers
Two-dimensional materials are as thin as an atom. They are one of the fastest-growing fields in materials science upholding promises for revolutionary technologies in semiconductors, energy storage, catalysis, and beyond. Organic 2D materials are particularly promising where the vast chemical space of molecular building blocks offers wide tunability of their electronic, magnetic, and optical properties. My research aims to systematically elucidate how electronic properties arise in organic 2D materials and the design thereof. Focusing on the supramolecular influences, I seek to develop weak chemical interactions for inducing strong electronic effects with the objective of creating new classes of materials with unchartered physical phenomena.
(Photo courtesy of Zhechang He)
Tianyuan Lu, Quantitative Life Sciences
Multi-ethnic polygenic risk scores to improve risk screening of complex diseases for populations of non-European ancestries
Accurately quantifying genetic risk towards complex diseases is important to health care. Recent advances in human genetics have enabled development of genetic risk scores with potential clinical utility in identifying individuals at an elevated level of risk.
However, most of these advances have occurred using data from individuals of European ancestry. In contrast, the predictive performance of genetic risk scores is substantially attenuated in populations of other genetic ancestries. Consequently, there are no clinically-acceptable polygenic risk scores available to these populations, who make up very important proportions of the population of Canada and of many other countries while supporting the health care system and its patients.
Therefore, we aim to develop novel statistical learning methods to improve genetic risk prediction of complex diseases in diverse ancestry populations. These approaches will help not only realize the goals of generalizability and clinical utility, but also mitigate long-standing health care disparities.
(Photo courtesy of Wenmin Zhang)
Mathis Messager, Geography
Advancing environmental flow science for intermittent river management
My research seeks to inform the management and conservation of freshwater ecosystems and, in turn, support human cultures and livelihoods that depend on these ecosystems. I take a multidisciplinary approach, leveraging ecology and geosciences, together with the most recent advances in statistics and computing, to promote freshwater sustainability.
Through my doctoral work, I focus on improving our understanding and promote the conservation of rivers that flow only part of the year. From Himalayan snow-fed creeks and Saharan wadis, to small streams in British Columbian rainforests, most rivers and streams on Earth flow only part of the year, yet we know very little about them. This oversight contributes to the degradation of these ecosystems, the main source of water and livelihood for millions of people. Through my thesis, I intend to correct this oversight and enable their conservation.
(Photo courtesy of Olivia del Giorgio)
Muhammad Ghufran Rafique, Chemistry
Sequence-defined DNA-based pi-conjugated polymers as cellular transmembrane nano-bioelectronic sensors
The integration of electronics with biological systems and living matter for therapeutic, diagnostic, and biosensing applications is an emerging challenge in nanoscience. Current approaches, however, are limited by both the size and material mismatch between ‘hard’ silicon-based electronics and ‘soft’ organic matter such as tissues and cells.
My research will address this challenge by combining customized semi-conducting organic molecules called π-CMs (conjugated molecules) with DNA – a programmable biomolecule capable of biochemical recognition – to yield bio-electronic polymers. These polymers will have precise and tunable lengths, sequences, and electronic properties, and will thus assemble predictably inside cell membranes. They will thus serve as two-component, transmembrane nano-biosensors: the DNA component will recognize a biochemical stimulus causing the polymer to adjust its position inside the cell membrane. This will cause a transient change in the electronic properties of the π-CM component which will then be detected externally.
Such nano-biosensors would allow the interfacing of cells and even microorganisms such as bacteria with non-invasive, macroscopic measurement tools without the need to embed silicon-based electronics in the biological environment. This seamless integration of molecular biological systems with molecular electronics signifies another revolution in modern electronics at the nanoscale regime, and will contribute to the field of diagnostics and the development of emergent technologies such as microbial fuel-cells.
(Photo courtesy of Fangzhou Zhao)
Mehak Sawhney, Art History and Communication Studies
Mapping the Rise of Surveillance Technologies, the Far Right, and State Violence in India
My PhD research at McGill University focuses on the technological and political aspects of audio surveillance in India. Through an ethnographic and historical study of sonic surveillance technologies such as telephony and radio communications in postcolonial India, it aims to understand how technology, law and listening practices facilitate state oppression. While the scholarship on surveillance has largely focussed on documentary, visual, and biometric identification, my project aims to explore the sonic dimensions of surveillance in the global South. More broadly, my research interests lie at the intersection of sound and media cultures of South Asia. I have previously researched on the politics of machine listening and urban sound.
Michelle Smith, Integrated Studies in Education
Michelle Smith is an award-winning Métis filmmaker, media artist and educator born and raised in St. James, Manitoba. She obtained her BA Honours from McGill and MA in Media Studies from Concordia University where she received the Sony Graduate Award. She has directed and produced numerous documentary films and interactive media on issues of Indigenous identity and resurgence, education and intercultural experience. She coordinated and taught in the Journeys First Peoples Transition program at Dawson College in Tiohtiá:ke (Montreal) for four years. She is a founding member of the Dawson First Peoples Initiative, Indigenous Education Council and Intercollegiate Decolonizing Network and teaches Cinema-Communications at Dawson College. She is Principle Investigator for the First Peoples Post-Secondary Storytelling Exchange (fppse.net) supported by SSHRC’s (CCSIF). She is pursuing a PhD in Education at McGill, with a focus on Indigenous educational sovereignty.
Hilary Sweatman, Integrated Program in Neuroscience
Episodic memory and theory-of-mind in children with autism
We use memory of our past experiences to imagine what other people are thinking. Being aware of other’s mental states is crucial for successful social interactions. In autism, detailed memory of past experiences is commonly impaired, along with the ability to imagine what others are thinking. Together, these challenges may create difficulty when conversing with others, providing a potential explanation for the social impairments commonly seen in autism. Memory deficits may be due to the fact that people with autism have difficulty relating experiences to themselves, a phenomenon which normally boosts memory. Using neuroimaging techniques, we aim to see how the effect of relating memories to oneself differs in children with autism compared to typically developing children. This will aid in understanding the roots of social impairments as they exist in the brain and behaviour in autism and will inform future interventions to improve day-to-day interactions for these individuals.
Motahareh Vameghestahbanati, Experimental Medicine
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Dysanapsis
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a leading cause of death and disability in the world and in Canada. Although smoking is the main risk factor, only a minority of smokers develop COPD and people who had never smoked can also develop COPD, suggesting that other risk factors must exist. 50 years ago, scientists using simple tests that measure lung function, speculated that some people have undersized airways relative to the volume of their lungs. This size mismatch was termed dysanapsis and is believed to develop early in life when airway branches grow more slowly than lung volume. Recently, by measuring airway tree size using computed tomography, our team showed that people with dysanapsis are eight times more likely to develop COPD. Thus, dysanapsis is a major COPD risk factor. By integrating methods of population-based epidemiology, state-of-the-art-imaging, and physiology we aim to understand clinical outcomes of dysanapsis and unravel targetable mechanisms of functional impairment.
Heather Whittaker, Neurology and Neurosurgery
Neuromodulation with cognitive training to enhance working memory
I study brain stimulation as a tool to improve memory in people with cognitive deficits. My research combines transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) with a brain training program that strengthens auditory working memory, which is the ability to remember and manipulate sounds. When rhythmic pulses of TMS are applied at the same frequency, timing, and location of the brain waves that an individual naturally generates during working memory task performance, the brain waves synchronize to the stimulation. People who display more oscillatory synchronization perform better on the task. I am investigating whether this performance enhancement is long lasting and can generalize to other cognitive tasks. This project aims to shed light on the neural mechanisms of brain wave entrainment, and potentially open a new therapeutic avenue for cognitive decline. In the future, people with cognitive deficits could rehabilitate their working memory using combined brain training and stimulation.
(Photo courtesy of Khalid Hossain)
Eric Wilkinson, Philosophy
Intuition and the Acquisition of Moral Knowledge
In ethical philosophy, intuitions are often considered a source of moral knowledge. Contemplating a morally charged situation elicits an ‘intuition’ about what the right or wrong thing to do is in that situation. This intuition is a starting point for rational reflection, and thus the first step to acquiring moral knowledge. However, there is no agreement on what intuitions are or how they justify moral beliefs. My research aims to clarify the nature of intuitions, and how they offer a priori knowledge.
In addition to answering the epistemic question of how ethical intuitions justify moral beliefs, my work also examines the ontological implications intuitionism has regarding the existence of moral properties, and the question of what psychological mechanism is used to acquire moral knowledge. Outlining the foundation for moral theorizing benefits anyone working on ethical philosophy, and is also relevant to those in other disciplines and non-academics who must form ethical judgments.
(Photo courtesy of Kate Fellerath)
Melanie Wisener, Educational and Counselling Psychology
Mindfulness and Self-Compassion as Alternate Coping Strategies for Undergraduate Students Using Alcohol and/or Marijuana to Cope
Using alcohol and/or marijuana in attempt to alleviate negative emotions has been consistently associated with alcohol and/or marijuana-related problems in undergraduate students. Theory suggests individuals use substances in attempt to alleviate negative emotions when they lack alternate means of coping. Thus, investigating alternate coping strategies, such as mindfulness and self-compassion, may afford a unique opportunity to address coping-motivated alcohol and marijuana use and the associated problems on Canadian university campuses.
My proposed three-part Doctoral dissertation aims to develop, evaluate, and disseminate a brief mindfulness and self-compassion program aimed at reducing coping-motivated use and the associated problems in undergraduates. Teaching mindfulness and self-compassion as alternate coping strategies to alcohol and/or marijuana use may help reduce coping-motivated use and the associated problems on Canadian university campuses. This would directly benefit the students using alcohol and/or marijuana, their fellow students, and their university.Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships
The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships program provides funding to the very best postdoctoral applicants, both nationally and internationally, who will positively contribute to the country’s economic, social, and research-based growth. The objective of the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships program is to:
- attract and retain top-tier postdoctoral talent, both nationally and internationally
- develop their leadership potential
- position them for success as research leaders of tomorrow
“I am delighted to welcome four new Banting postdoctoral fellows to McGill,” said Josephine Nalbantoglu, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, “Their research tackles issues of great relevance to our society, ranging from Alzheimer’s disease pathology and transformative justice to artificial intelligence regulation and responsible partisanship in democracy. I look forward to witnessing this impactful work position them as research leaders of tomorrow.”
McGill’s 2021 Banting Fellows and a synopsis of their research:
Andrée-Ann Baril, Psychiatry
The circadian clock and Alzheimer’s disease pathology
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common dementia, remains incurable and a colossal burden to patients and caregivers’ lives, with billions spent annually in Canada. Unfortunately, we still do not completely understand how Alzheimer’s disease pathology accumulates in the brain and progresses. Studying the circadian clock is a promising research avenue: The circadian clock is composed of neuronal networks, genes and proteins, which together regulates physiological functions in phase with the 24 h light-dark cycle.
Under the supervision of Dr. Judes Poirier, I will use different cohorts to investigate and potentially establish a causal model between the circadian clock (sleep-wake cycles, clock genes polymorphisms and expression) and Alzheimer’s disease pathology and risk (disease progression, fluid biomarkers, high-risk genes, cognition). Understanding the role of the circadian clock in the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease might prove to be a key therapeutic target to prevent or even slow down the disease.
Daniel Del Gobbo, Law
Restorative Justice Revisionism: The Challenge of Transformative Justice for LGBTQ2 Peoples in Canada
My research explores the relationship between restorative justice and reconciliation with LGBTQ2 peoples in Canada. For decades, LGBTQ2 peoples were routinely fired from their jobs and convicted of crimes because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Enormous strides have been made toward LGBTQ2 equality, but more work is needed to repair these historical injustices and address systemic discrimination against LGBTQ2 peoples.
The term “restorative justice” is commonly associated with a range of collaborative, out-of-court processes in which parties come together to reflect on how they can move forward to address the harm done. My research investigates the potential of using restorative justice to address systemic discrimination against LGBTQ2 peoples and promote reconciliation with them.
My case study is the Canadian “Gay Purge”: the punishment of gay men, lesbians, and trans people and their firing from the military and federal public service between 1955 and 1996. The Gay Purge is the subject of a class action and settlement agreement in the Federal Court of Canada. The class action and settlement agreement resulted from a process that purported to embody the values of restorative justice. My research investigates the extent to which the legal mechanisms in this case – praiseworthy as they may be – fall short of the demands of restorative justice and the requirements for reconciliation. Relatively little work explores the relationship between restorative justice and reconciliation.
Even less work explores this relationship in the LGBTQ2 context. My research is focused on the experiences of LGBTQ2 peoples, but lessons from my work can be applied in other contexts of systemic discrimination in Canada, including anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism. I am interested in exploring the possibilities and obstacles to implementing a more transformative approach to restorative justice in the Canadian legal system — and hopefully overcoming these obstacles.
Anat Lior, Law
Insurability of Artificial Intelligence
The artificial intelligence (AI) industry is predicted to grow exponentially over the next decade. This growth will lead to AI-inflected harms. The discussion about AI liability has focused on what liability regimes should apply to AI-inflicted damages. An appropriate policy response, however, must include insurance as a regulatory mechanism. Insurance can help avoid legal issues of liability and blame-placing as it can be used as a governance and regulatory tool to channel the behaviour of regulated entities. This research will cover this gap. By combining research in AI liability with insurance law, this project aims to change the way stakeholders approach AI regulation. Insurance has the power to better handle AI-inflected damages, both as a preventive function before harms occur and as a compensatory function after harms occur. This project will develop a framework that allows those who work on AI regulation to take advantage of the robust insurance system.
Nga Yin (Agnes) Tam, Political Science
Rescuing Democracy from Populism: A Case for Identity-Expressive Partisanship
This project aims to understand and improve the role of political parties in representative democracy. As the resurgence of illiberal populism suggests, norms of constitutionalism are insufficient to stabilize democracy. It is increasingly recognized that healthy democracy requires healthy political parties, which in turn require responsible partisanship. But what is responsible partisanship? The answer remains poorly understood. Much of normative democratic theory idealizes citizens as rational and autonomous individual agents, offering few resources to conceptualize an ethic for partisans, who are by nature conformist and partial group agents. To fill this gap, I will work with Prof. Jacob Levy at the Research Group of Constitutional Studies to devise an ethic of partisanship, using an empirically informed and normatively robust account of group reasoning, called “We”-reasoning. I will explore how norms of We-reasoning, such as trust, trustworthiness, solidarity and loyalty, help foster inclusive and reasonable party commitments and mobilize compliance.
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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update – July 15, 2021 / Le point sur la maladie à coronavirus (COVID-19) – Le 15 juillet 2021
As the world slowly emerges from a pandemic that exposed the vulnerability of healthcare systems when overwhelmed with multifaceted management challenges, McGill has launched a new Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Management (GCHM). A collaborative initiative between McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, the GCHM program is designed to train physicians and other healthcare professionals in the skills needed to make effective decisions and succeed in leadership roles.
“From team management to finance and negotiation, we are helping healthcare workers develop the expertise to address organizational challenges and lead change through practical course content,” said Leslie Breitner, co-director of the GCHM and academic director at the Desautels Faculty of Management. “Students will gain new perspectives and the transferable skills needed to take the helm of a hospital-based division or private practice with confidence.”
Offered entirely online using a flexible, part-time delivery format, healthcare workers will be able to participate in the GCHM without pausing their careers. The curriculum, taught by a team of seasoned McGill professors and healthcare leaders, is designed to address the key competencies of the Leader Role outlined in the CANMEDS educational framework of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
“Healthcare organizations run into the same issues as typical businesses,” said Dr. Adrian Dancea, co-director of the GCHM and division chief of pediatric cardiology at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. “While hospitals grappled with scarce resources and supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, it reinforced the importance to equip healthcare workers with the management competencies needed to better cope with future predicaments.”
The 15-credit program is delivered across four intensive six-day modules over a nine-month period. To supplement the modules, group assignments, workshops, mentorship and a capstone project will reinforce classroom learning with real world experience.
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Adelle Blackett has been selected to Chair the Task Force to review Canada’s Employment Equity Act. Introduced in 1986, the Employment Equity Act promotes fairness, equality and diversity in federally regulated workplaces.Adelle Blackett is the Canada Research Chair in Transnational Labour Law and Development at the Faculty of LawLysanne Larose
The Employment Equity Review Task Force was launched yesterday by Minister of Labour, Filomena Tassi, along with the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Bardish Chagger, and Blackett.
“The Employment Equity Act is a critical tool to ensure that our workplaces are equitable, diverse and representative spaces,” said Tassi. “The Task Force’s work will be vital in identifying changes to help bring this Act into the 21st century and embrace the true potential of all workers. The pandemic, as well as many recent and tragic events, has demonstrated the depth to which change is needed now. As we look toward our future, we have an opportunity to make the kinds of changes that will result in more fair and equal opportunities for everyone to succeed – and that benefits workers, employers and all Canadians.”
Blackett brings a wealth of experience to the Task Force. The Canada Research Chair in Transnational Labour Law and Development at the Faculty of Law, she is an expert in International Labour Organization. She served as a commissioner at the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la Jeunesse; and as chair of the Human Rights Experts Panel of the federal Court Challenges Program.
She was appointed to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Chapter 23 (Trade and Labour) Roster of experts in 2018. In 2020, she was appointed to the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement’s List of Rapid Response Labour Panelists.
A former official of the International Labour Office in Geneva, she was the chief legal architect behind the International ILO’s first comprehensive standards offering protections and rights to more than 60 million domestic workers. She also participated in a labour law reform process in Haiti (2011-2014).
This past fall, Blackett won the Principal’s Prize in Excellence in Teaching in the Full Professor category.Modernizing a 37-year-old Act
The Task Force is mandated to make concrete, independent and evidence-based recommendations to the Minister of Labour on how to modernize the Act. Its final report is expected in early 2022.
The modernization of the Act is an important step in advancing the state of equity, diversity and inclusion in federally regulated workplaces, including by addressing the need for better retention and leadership opportunities for under-represented groups at some of Canada’s largest corporations. Creating more equitable, diverse and inclusive workplaces will also help result in higher productivity and better retention.
“Modernizing the Employment Equity Act to reflect the diversity of our society is a major step in building a consciously more inclusive Canada,” said Bagger. “Systemic racism and discrimination disproportionally affect LGBTQ2 Canadians, Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized Canadians, and other equity-seeking groups. The Government of Canada will continue to work on strengthening diversity and inclusion across federally regulated workplaces from coast to coast to coast through recommendations made by the Employment Equity Act Review Task Force.”
The aim of the Employment Equity Act is to remove systemic barriers for individuals in the four designated groups under the Act in federally regulated workplaces:
- Indigenous peoples
- persons with disabilities, and
- members of visible minorities
The 1984 Equality in Employment: A Royal Commission report identified these groups as having lower salaries; higher unemployment rates; and a greater concentration in lower-paying occupational groups.Cultivating “a legacy of equitable inclusion and flourishing workplaces”
The Task Force brings together a group of 13 members from a wide range of personal and professional experience. Along with Blackett, the Task Force includes vice-chairs, Marie-Thérèse Chicha and Dionne Pohler; and members Tao (Tony) Fang, Kari Giddings, Helen Kennedy, Raji Mangat, Fo Niemi, Kami Ramcharan, Sandra Sutter, Josh Vander Vies, Marie Clarke Walker and Ruth Williams.
“I am honoured by the opportunity to work on this timely and important review with each Task Force member, including my two vice-chairs,” said Blackett. “Task Force members bring a rich range of expertise and experience to the table that I’m confident will offer a strong foundation for the recommendations that we’ll develop and provide to the Minister of Labour. Redressing systemic racism and discrimination matters deeply to workers and employers in federally regulated workplaces across Canada, and to our society as a whole. Together, let’s cultivate a legacy of equitable inclusion and flourishing workplaces with a renewed Employment Equity Act that achieves equality.”
Read the Federal government’s press release.
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A new study Oral health and oral health care of Canadians led by Prof. Paul Allison of McGill’s Faculty of Dentistry, has received $3.3 million of funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to support a collaboration with Statistics Canada’s existing Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) to gather data and address oral health-related knowledge gaps. The study is a partnership involving all ten Canadian dental schools across the country.Paul Allison of McGill’s Faculty of Dentistry
“Canadians lack of information on the oral health and dental care of our population and how these outcomes and services are distributed and evolving over time,” says lead investigator Allison. “The most recent national survey was completed over a decade ago in 2009 and prior to that in the early 1970s. Our study will shine light on current social determinants and inequalities in oral health of Canadians. It will also provide valuable data to further enable investigated how oral and general health are linked.”
The research group will work with CHMS to add essential oral health clinical and self-reported data to the regularly scheduled surveys by the CHMS. Information will be collected from January 2022 through to December 2023 amongst Canadians aged 1 – 79 years old.
“It’s exciting to have a national group of this size involved in a research project,” says Allison. “It will allow us to establish a modern, world-class, research platform that will provide numerous opportunities for new research discovery and research training.”
“The need for this renewed national picture is made more acute by the increased interest in action to change oral health care delivery in Canada,” says Allison. “95 per cent of Canadians’ dental care is delivered privately and paid for out-of-pocket or through private dental insurance. This contributes to the significant inequalities in oral health that exist among Canadians.”
Evidence overwhelmingly proves that poor oral health has a profound impact on overall health and quality of life across all segments of society.
A database, and research and training infrastructure is planned to enable oral health researchers, students, practitioners and decision-makers to address pertinent oral health and oral health care-related research concerns. The researchers also aim to facilitate knowledge translation and exchange with appropriate stakeholders and build sustainable long-term capacity in oral health-related research.
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At first glance, the expansive McGill campus offers an oasis from the bustle of downtown Montreal, but few notice the complexities that lie between the beds of flowers.
Thanks to Eric Champagne, the Horticultural Supervisor for McGill’s downtown campus and his team, the campus grounds have transformed into a biodiverse ecological sight filled with opportunities for sustainability initiatives and firsthand learning.
Champagne has been indispensable with urban agriculture projects, such as the Office of Sustainability’s Staff Gardens program, since he joined groundskeeping in 2003. Through his work, a campus that was once filled with cars and bare of trees is now nearly unrecognizable, containing over 900 trees, community gardens, and an impressive collection of rare species. The result of his passion for trees: McGill’s downtown campus has become something of a hidden arboretum.
A private person whose passion is the health of our green spaces, Champagne met with the Office of Sustainability to talk about the role of groundskeeping in transforming sustainability at McGill, to talk about groundskeeping as a tool to create sustainable change and develop an appreciation for all the things easily missed between lecture halls. Here is what he had to share:What are some ways your team incorporates sustainability into your work?
Because there’s so much construction happening all over campus, one of the things we do is move plants around that will be damaged from construction. This is more sustainable, because otherwise everything gets destroyed. I’ll go see the [construction] project manager and ask for the time to move the plants – you’d be surprised how many plants we save. You might say a plant is not a human being or animal, so it doesn’t matter, but when it has been growing for 10 years, it’s beautiful. So, we try to save as many as we can.
For sustainability, we try to [have tree diversity]. In the past, McGill had only a few trees. Then they planted row after row of the same species, and [most of them] died from disease. This is the problem with planting everything the same. An architect or designer will say it’s nicer to have it all match. It probably looks nicer [when they match], but is it really sustainable? Maybe for ten or twenty years, but a nasty bug could come through and wipe them all out. So, we are trying. I’m not saying we always succeed, but we try.
We’re [also] here to provide trained assistance to the community, not just maintain the green space and cut the grass – maybe 30-40 years ago that was enough, but nowadays there is more to it than just grass. Maybe for diversity, we can let clover grow if the grass is dying. We don’t have any chemical companies coming to create beautiful lawns, if you want that, go to a golf course. There are plenty of organic products offered nowadays, so we are just trying to make sure we are as sustainable as possible.You have been integral to many sustainability projects on campus. Why was helping with this a priority to you?
Every time there’s a group [interested in working with us], our department is there. We are here to maintain the green space, but ultimately, we’re here to help the community. The community could be a professor, students, or a group. We are here to help.
If areas are not being used for whatever reason, and a group is willing to have a gardening team, we are happy to do that. Instead of always planting perennials, why not create a garden? Looking at a nice healthy garden with tomatoes and such is just as nice as an ornamental plant. We can have challenges with not enough volunteers [to maintain a garden], and that’s okay, that happens sometimes. But it’s always great to try.I understand you are passionate about the trees on campus. Could you tell us a bit about them?
Since I joined McGill, I have planted around 50 new species. We try to keep diverse species, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. We have Japanese Oak, Hungarian Oak, Sweetgum, Hickory, Black Oak, the common white oak in Quebec, and many more. We recently planted a Blue Ash tree which is native to Ontario. When you cut the tree, it produces a reaction on the sap which turns blue, but I haven’t seen it since I’d never unnecessarily damage the trees. Personally, my favourite tree is the Kentucky Coffee-Tree.Tell us about your seedling nursery.
[The] seedling nursery was started after Jim Nicell, Dean of Faculty of Engineering, requested me to find a way to preserve an old tree with health issues that was originally planted by some Graduate students in 1962.
This nursery has backup seedlings of many trees on campus. The problem is that sometimes they’re too small to put back right away on campus, so you have no choice than to grow them for a few years until [the tree] is big enough to be okay on its own. I don’t have a specific nursery location, so I keep them close, tucked near a generator. You know the saying; “far from the eye, far from the heart.”
We do this because some trees we have are rare. For example, what if a tree got destroyed from a cold spell, or construction? You have only one species that was hard to find in the first place, and now it’s gone. Here at McGill, I consider [the grounds] a learning place, not just a green space with a couple of trees. This way, if students studying at McGill are doing research on a particular rare species, maybe we have one on campus for them to see. You never know.What do you want others to know about the way individuals can shape our campus?
For the whole community, sustainability starts with just you. It’s as simple as saying, “Instead of leaving my debris on a bench beside me or tossing my cigarette in the grass, I’ll take care of it.” Use the specialized disposal bins, take the time. It really helps.
[Sustainability is] about whatever you use, not just growing vegetables or keeping trees. Even us [in groundskeeping], when we dig a hole and have extra soil, we always try to use it in extra spots because soil is precious. Know that sustainably starts with whatever you have in your hands.
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According to a new study published in Science, fewer women hold biomedical patents, leading to a reduced number of patented technologies designed to address problems affecting women.
While there are well-known biases that limit the number of women in science and technology, the consequences extend beyond the gender gap in the labour market, say researchers from McGill University, Harvard Business School, and the Universidad de Navarra in Barcelona. Demographic inequities in who gets to invent lead to demographic inequities in who benefits from invention.
“Although the percentage of biomedical patents held by women has risen from 6.3 per cent to 16.2 per cent over the last three decades, men continue to significantly outnumber women as patent holders. As a result, health inventions have tended to focus more on the needs of men than women,” says co-author John-Paul Ferguson, an Associate Professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill.The inventor gender gap
To determine which inventions are female-focused, male-focused, or neutral, researchers analyzed 441,504 medical patents filed from 1976 through 2010 using machine learning. They show that patented biomedical inventions created by women are up to 35 per cent more likely to benefit women’s health than biomedical inventions created by men. These patents are more likely to address conditions like breast cancer and postpartum preeclampsia, as well as diseases that disproportionately affect women, like fibromyalgia and lupus.
While inventions by women are more likely to be female-focused, such patents have been less common because so few inventors were women. In total, women were listed as co-inventors on just a quarter of all patents filed during the period.
The researchers note that female scientists are 40 per cent less likely to commercialize their research ideas than male scientists. The causes of this gender gap are myriad, from differences in mentoring to biases in the early-stage feedback that women receive when trying to commercialize female-focused ideas.
“Our findings suggest that the inventor gender gap is partially responsible for thousands of missing female-focused inventions since 1976. Our calculations suggest that had male and female inventors been equally represented over this period, there would have been an additional 6,500 more female-focused inventions,” says say co-author Rembrand Koning, an Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School.Gender bias in biomedical innovation
The results reveal that inventions by research teams primarily or completely composed of men are more likely to focus on the medical needs of men. In 34 of the 35 years from 1976 to 2010, male-majority teams produced hundreds more inventions focused on the needs of men than those focused on the needs of women.
Male inventors also tended to target diseases and conditions like Parkinson’s and sleep apnea, which disproportionately affect men. Overall, the researchers found that across inventor teams of all gender mixes, biomedical invention from 1976 to 2010 focused more on the needs of men than women.Benefits of more women inventing
The researchers also found more subtle benefits when more women invent. Female inventors are more likely to identify how existing treatments for non-sex-specific diseases like heart attacks, diabetes, and stroke can be improved and adapted for the needs of women. They are also more likely to test whether their ideas and inventions affect men and women differently: for example, if a drug has more adverse side effects in women than in men.
“Our results suggest that increasing representation should address these invisible biases,” says Koning.
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The Office of the Provost and Vice Principal (Academic) has bestowed prestigious internal recognition awards to 27 McGill professors for outstanding world-class scholarship and research excellence. Five senior scholars received James McGill Professor (JMP) awards, including two for a second seven-year term. Twelve tenure-track assistant or associate professors received William Dawson Scholar (WDS) awards, three for a second five-year term. Ten scholars became Distinguished James McGill Professors (DJMP) – McGill’s highest honour – awarded to late-career scholars whose work exemplifies excellence and international leadership.
“McGill’s Distinguished Professorships are bestowed upon our researchers who display exceptional promise, uphold an extraordinary level of research and scholarly activity, and have achieved pre-eminence in their fields,” said Christopher Manfredi, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “I am delighted to award DJMP, JMP and WDS awards to 27 of our most highly accomplished scholars. I extend my sincere congratulations and best wishes to all honourees.”
Both the JMP and WDS awards come with an annual salary supplement and an annual research allowance not exceeding $25,000. The Distinguished James McGill Professor award provides for a $10,000 academic stipend or a $15,000 research grant allowance. DJMPs are awarded to those who have held James McGill Professorships for two seven-year terms while maintaining an outstanding research record, or to those who have held a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) for two seven-year terms. DJMP awardees maintain the distinction until retirement, and those granted Emeritus status retain the title.
The 2021 JMP, WDS and DJMP cohort:
Distinguished James McGill Professors – 10 honourees:
- Bruno Giros, Department of Psychiatry
- Paul Lasko, Department of Biology
- Tho Le-Ngoc, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
- Gergely Lukacs, Department of Physiology
- Peter McPherson, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery
- Luc Mongeau, Department of Mechanical Engineering
- Ronald Niezen, Department of Anthropology
- Jacquetta Trasler, Departments of Pediatrics, Human Genetics, and Pharmacology & Therapeutics
- Steve Yue, Department of Mining and Materials Engineering
- Xin Zhao, Department of Animal Science
James McGill Professors – 5 honourees:
- Yolande Chan, Desautels Faculty of Management
- Warren Gross, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
- Satya Prakash, Department of Biomedical Engineering
- Jan Seuntjens, Department of Oncology
- Jonathan Sterne, Department of Art History & Communications Studies
William Dawson Scholars – 12 honourees:
- Pouya Bashivan, Department of Physiology
- François Bouffard, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
- Ziv Gan-Or, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery
- Hillary Kaell, Department of Anthropology
- Bassam Khoury, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology
- Eve Lee, Department of Physics
- Xiaonan Lu, Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry
- Robert Nason, Desautels Faculty of Management
- Lisa Overholtzer, Department of Anthropology
- Erin Strumpf, Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health
- Etienne Vachon- Presseau, Faculty of Dentistry
- Pia Wintermark, Department of Pediatrics
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Four McGill students are among this year’s winners of Weston Family Awards in Northern Research, as announced yesterday. The students, two Master’s students and two PhD candidates, are examining a broad range of research subjects including polar bear ecology; muskoxen reintroduced to the Yukon North Slope; the impacts of plastic contaminants on Arctic seabirds; and seasonal interactions and stress physiology of Arctic-nesting seabirds.
The Weston Family Awards in Northern Research support young scientists pursuing research in Canada’s North. Funded by the Weston Family Foundation, the annual awards are some of the most prestigious in the country for students pursuing a master’s degree, a doctoral degree or postdoctoral fellowship. Weston Family Award winners undertake research projects across a broad spectrum of fields and disciplines in the natural sciences, including studies of northern ecosystems, biodiversity, flora and fauna, meteorology, oceanography, glaciology, geography and environmental studies.McGill winners in the Master’s category and the Weston Family Awards citation
“Alexandra is a Master’s student at McGill University’s Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment. She is studying polar bear ecology in eastern James Bay with the Eeyou Marine Region Wildlife Board, Cree Trappers Association and the coastal communities of Eeyou Istchee. The polar bears in James Bay are the world’s most southerly, and they face rapid environmental change. However, little is known about their ecology.
“Through Cree Knowledge interviews, hair snares and camera traps, Alexandra is examining James Bay polar bear diet, habitat use and their possible genetic distinction from Hudson Bay bears. With this project, she hopes to advance the knowledge of polar bears at the southern edge of their range, answer community research questions and contribute to wildlife monitoring in Eeyou Istchee.”
“Jessica is a master’s student at McGill University in Natural Resource Science. Originally from the Northwest Territories, she has had a lifelong passion and connection to the North, including the people and species that inhabit the unique landscape.
“The Yukon North Slope is home to a population of reintroduced muskoxen. Since reintroduction, the population has expanded and is a significant figure on the landscape. However, there is limited information regarding current environmental drivers, impacts from a growing population, and further habitat expansion. Jessica’s research focuses on investigating and understanding these knowledge gaps. She hopes to bring together her knowledge gained through her studies and experiences to help support overall conservation efforts in the North.”McGill winners in the Doctoral category and the Weston Family Awards citation
“Julia is a PhD student at McGill University studying the occurrence, fate and effects of plastic pollution in Arctic seabirds.
“Marine plastic pollution is an increasing environmental problem in the Arctic, yet knowledge about plastic and plastic-related contaminants in Arctic seabirds is limited, particularly in the case of Arctic gulls. As human and shipping activities continue to increase in the Arctic, Julia’s research will focus on quantifying plastics and plasticrelated contaminants in glaucous gulls and black-legged kittiwakes as indicators of plastic pollution in Arctic ecosystems; examining the transport of plastics and plastic-related contaminants to the Arctic by glaucous gulls and black-legged kittiwakes; and assessing the impacts of plastics and plastic-related contaminants on these two Arctic seabirds.
“The results of this research will contribute to an ongoing international effort to better understand plastic and plastic-related contaminants in the marine environment and how these contaminants may impact northern seabirds in a rapidly changing Arctic.”
Don-Jean Leandri Breton
“Don-Jean can’t imagine spending summer anywhere else than above the Arctic Circle. The PhD candidate at McGill University is studying seasonal interactions and stress physiology on two of the most abundant Arctic-nesting seabirds, the thick-billed murre and the black-legged kittiwake.
“Migratory species connect the Arctic regions with the rest of the world. Understanding changes in breeding populations in the North requires a profound knowledge of how conditions experienced by the individuals further south can carry consequences over to the next stages of their annual life cycle.
“Taking place in Nunavut and Svalbard, Norway, his research focuses on interactions between the different stages of the annual life cycle of seabirds and how these interactions are governed by endocrinological and behavioural mechanisms. He tracks the birds’ movement throughout the year using small biologgers attached to the birds and combines his findings with demographic and physiological data collected at the seabird colonies.”
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By any standard, John McCall MacBain is one of Canada’s great success stories.
A Valedictorian at McGill (BA’80), a Rhodes Scholar and a Harvard Business School MBA, McCall MacBain is one of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs and a visionary philanthropist who supports initiatives in education, the environment, and health and wellness.John McCall MacBain is McGill’s 20th Chancellor
And, on July 1, McCall MacBain began his three-year term as McGill’s Chancellor. McCall MacBain succeeds Michael A. Meighen.
So why is it, when asked what message he would like to pass on to McGill students, McCall MacBain begins listing his failures?
“I applied for 37 [MBA] scholarships and I lost 36 of them. I think I’m in the Guinness Book of Records as the number one loser of scholarships,” he says with a chuckle during a Zoom interview. “But nobody remembers that because the one scholarship I did get sent me to Harvard Business School.”
“It doesn’t matter how many scholarships you lose – it’s the one you get that can change your life forever. And that applies to every venture you undertake.”The importance of resilience
The Chancellor talks about how resilience is a vital quality for students, but a resilience that is more profound than just picking themselves up after a setback.
He talks about pivoting. McCall MacBain has made a career, literally, out of his ability to pivot after failure – a quality he developed early in life.John McCall MacBain served as President of McGill’s Student Society
“I always dreamed of being a swimming instructor for the City of Niagara Falls,” he says. After getting certified, McCall MacBain was fired from the job because he had to miss some time to compete in a Spanish-language competition. “I ended up starting my own swimming school in direct competition to the City of Niagara Falls – and I never looked back in my entrepreneurial career.”
A talented high school wrestler, McCall MacBain lost the All-Ontario Championships to Ray Takahashi, a future Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medalist. The loss forced him to re-evaluate his interests and priorities. “I decided to turn my focus to student politics,” he says.
He was elected student president of Niagara Falls’ A.N. Myer High School in Grade 13 and, once at McGill, he served as President of the Students Society.
“Losing that wrestling match and getting fired from that swim instructor job were both really bad days,” he says. “But because I reacted positively, they led to many more great days. Bad days happen. What matters most is how you react to them.”Taking risks and following untraditional paths
Developing this resilience and the ability to change course, sometimes radically, allows students the opportunity to find the path best suited for them. “We can’t be afraid to take risks or to pursue our passions – even if they are considered ‘untraditional,’” says McCall MacBain. “And students have to be willing to take risks, both in their social positions – where they want to make a stand – and in the areas and fields in which they want to get involved.”
He believes that this confidence and strength of conviction is fostered by the University’s diversity, both of the student body and of the opportunities it provides.
“Having so many international students at the University benefits everyone because it encourages the exchange of ideas and a wide-range of experiences. It promotes independence of thought,” he says. “But there is also the diversity of McGill’s clubs that allows students to explore – and flourish – in so many different areas.”Supporting student success, interests
Helping students flourish has long been a preoccupation for McGill’s 20th Chancellor.McGill’s 1980 Rhodes Scholars (l to r): Marc Tessier-Lavigne, John McCall McBain and Matthew Jocelyn
Following his own unconventional path McCall MacBain, at the apex of his entrepreneurial success, sold his company Trader Classified Media, the world’s leading company in classified advertising. He used the proceeds to found the McCall MacBain Foundation in 2007. “Our Foundation is committed to three areas of funding that I think are of particular interest to students,” says McCall MacBain, “education and scholarships, climate change and environment, and health – particularly youth mental health issues.”
The beneficiary of a number of scholarships (at McGill, Oxford and Harvard), McCall MacBain knows firsthand how financial support can impact a student’s life. Wanting to offer that opportunity to future generations, McCall MacBain and his wife Marcy established the McCall MacBain Scholarships at McGill in 2019. The comprehensive graduate scholarships program provides outstanding students from Canada and internationally with the opportunity to pursue a master’s or professional degree, combined with a world-class enrichment program.
The first cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars will begin their fully funded studies at McGill this fall.
The McCall MacBains have also given generously to the Mandela Rhodes Scholarships in South Africa; the Kupe Leadership Scholarships at the University of Auckland; the Loran Scholars Foundation in Canada, and to other educational causes. In 2013, the Foundation committed £75 million to the Rhodes Trust in Oxford to help fund the Rhodes Scholarships and to aid in the expansion of the scholarship program around the world.Laying the foundation for the future
As Chancellor for McGill’s Bicentennial celebrations, McCall MacBain is direct when asked to look ahead to the biggest challenges that will face the University in its next 200 years.
“I think one real challenge will be for the University, as a public institution, to continue to serve the greater public, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and around the world, while maintaining its independence,” he says. “I think it was David Johnston, former Principal of McGill and Governor General, who said McGill’s unique in that we’ve got that balance of excellence, inclusiveness and such a strong partnership with the public – all while being able to govern ourselves.
“I’m a big proponent of public universities,” he says. “McGill has a unique public nature thanks to a strong network of alumni and other donors who help the University do things that might not be possible in many other public institutions.”
In the end, McCall MacBain says, the most important thing is for McGill to remain student-centric. “Students are really at the centre of the University. I think we are very fortunate to have Suzanne Fortier as Principal because she has always made this her priority,” he says. “Students are our future – our future professors, politicians and community leaders. The more we can support them today, the stronger our world will be tomorrow.”
Terri Givens has been appointed as the Provost’s Academic Lead and Advisor (PALA) on McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism (AP-ABR). A noted political scientist and author, Givens has also joined the Department of Political Science as a Full Professor.
“I am delighted to welcome Professor Terri Givens to McGill University,” said Provost Christopher Manfredi. “An accomplished senior scholar of political science, Professor Givens brings a wealth of experience in research, education, and university leadership. In her new role, she will make critical contributions to McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism by leading strategic initiatives for the recruitment, retention, and support of Black academic staff – objectives that will benefit greatly from Professor Givens’ insight and that will have a significant impact on our community.”
In her role as PALA, which will begin on July 1, Givens will assume a wide-range of responsibilities including:
- Overseeing McGill’s efforts to reach tenure-track and tenured Black faculty targets by stated milestone dates
- Serving as the McGill point person to the Universities Studying Slavery Consortium
- Overseeing the implementation of the Provostial Visiting Fellowship-in-Residence on Black Life and History program
- Serving as a mentor to Black faculty at all ranks
- Advising academic leaders (Deans, Chairs, Directors, Associate Deans) about the distinct needs and experiences of Black faculty and measures that can facilitate an equitable and inclusive environment for BIPOC faculty
Givens will lead a newly-established team composed of talented colleagues hired to advance the University’s AP-ABR and overarching EDI commitments.
This team includes recently-appointed Program Manager for the AP-ABR, Karen Diop, who will oversee the implementation of the Action Plan. Other team members include: Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo, McGill’s Black Student Affairs Liaison; Charlene Lewis-Sutherland, Senior Advisor (Equity & Anti-Racism Teaching and Learning); Melissa Anne Cobbler (Wellness Advisor for BIPOC Students); Cynthia Nkamicaniye, EDI Advisor (Student Services); Camille Georges, Black Community Outreach Associate (Enrolment Services); Sara Pierre, Employment Equity Advisor; and Kimberly Lee Louis, Assistant Dean Inclusion – Black and Indigenous Flourishing (Faculty of Law).Renowned expert in comparative politics
Givens earned her BA in International Relations from Stanford University and received her MA and PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She served as a professor at the University of Texas at Austin from 2003 to 2015, where she founded the Center for European Studies and was Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Curriculum and International Affairs. As Provost Menlo College from 2015 to 2018, Givens led efforts to develop programs for first generation students, update curriculum and create infrastructure for evidence-based assessment.
Her research and teaching focus on comparative politics, including immigration policy, the politics of race, and anti-discrimination policy in Europe and the U.S. She conducted ground-breaking research on the radical right in Europe in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Givens is the author/editor of books and articles on immigration policy, European politics, and the politics of race. Her most recent book is a memoir, Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridging Racial Divides. There she combines her own experiences with the political, while offering practical steps to call out racism and bring about radical social change.
Recently, the Reporter spoke to Givens, asking her about her the experiences that have led her to this point in her life, and what she sees in her immediate future as the Provost’s Academic Lead and Advisor on McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black RacismTell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in Washington State, in Spokane, and I’m the youngest of seven children. I went to a Catholic High School, Gonzaga Preparatory, which then led me to Stanford University where I ran track and studied political science.
I studied abroad in France when I was a junior for a quarter. Actually, I had been studying French since middle school because my mother is from Louisiana.
After graduating from Stanford University, I worked for six years in non-profit organizations before heading to graduate school at UCLA. I’m the first in my family to complete a four-year degree, and get a PhD.What were your early research interests?
Right from the start, my research focus was on Europe – specifically issues of race and immigration politics and the radical right in Europe. That opened me up to a lot of the issues that were going on there in terms of discrimination. My first book was on the radical right in Western Europe and anti-immigrant politics. In the early 2000s, I studied the beginnings of EU legislation related to immigration policy, writing several articles and book chapters on the topic. My next book, Legislating Equality, focuses on anti-discrimination policy in Europe.
I started teaching my comparative immigration politics class early in my career. Just this last year, I came out with a textbook focusing on the history of immigration politics as well current integration issues. I’ve always been engaged with these issues as a researcher.When did you become interested in the discrepancies in health outcomes?
In 2001, my father passed away from a heart attack and I felt the need to look into risk factors. I found that just being a Black man was a risk factor for heart disease.
That initiated my process of thinking how you can be relatively privileged, well off and educated and still have health issues. Over the years, as other family members were dealing with health issues, I began thinking about these issues more deeply, as I talk about in Radical Empathy.
More recently, I was driving around Berkley and listening to a story on NPR about Black maternal health outcomes. They were saying, it doesn’t matter how educated you are or how wealthy you are [if you are Black] you are going to have poorer outcomes.
I was stunned. I already had my two boys and they were healthy and fine, but I couldn’t stop asking: How is it that being Black is the main reason for these terrible outcomes?
I almost wrote Radical Empathy on health outcome data, but there are other people who can do that better than I can. I really wanted to focus on the different aspects of structural discrimination that had impacted my life.In Radical Empathy, you encourage readers to move beyond an understanding of others’ lives and pain to understand the origins of their own biases, including internalized oppression. Can you give us an example of internalized oppression?
I experienced internalized oppression growing up in Spokane. My parents decided to raise us in this very white city, and they didn’t want us to interact with other Black people because of respectability politics. They felt like we needed to be assimilated, to be able to talk right, dress right and act right.
But it made me feel uncomfortable sometimes when I was around other Black people. I had to get over that and realize that there are a lot of different ways to be African American or Black.What is the difference between empathy and radical empathy?
Empathy is being able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Radical empathy is actually taking action.
The first step [of radical empathy] is the willingness to be vulnerable. I was vulnerable with you in telling my story about how growing up in white Spokane, made it harder for me to connect with other Black people until I finally figured out that I just have to be myself.
I had to have that vulnerability to be willing to look back and understand why my parents made the choices that they did and, frankly, to have compassion and empathy for them. I had to try to understand how I could be more engaged and involved in those things related to the Black community in a way that was meaningful for me.
The second step is becoming grounded in who you are. First, I had to be vulnerable and then I had to have empathy for myself. I had to be willing to understand who I am, and be proud of who I am.
The third step is openness to the experiences of others. We all tend to do put people in boxes, or follow stereotypes. To get away from that I have to be intentional and say ‘No, I’m going to be open to people’s experiences on an individual basis, and not just generalize people’s experiences.”
The fourth step is practicing empathy because empathy does not always come naturally and it’s something we have to practice.
The fifth step is taking action, which can take a variety of forms. Every chapter in Radical Empathy has a whole set of examples of practical actions that people can take.
And then step six is creating change, because you can take action that doesn’t create change, right? So, we need to create change and build trust, and that’s where reconciliation comes in.How does this relate to McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism?
Radical empathy is all about taking action and that connects directly to this job – which is taking action and using radical empathy. When I started talking to the folks at McGill about this job, I was struck by how this is a rare opportunity in which we can bring in Black faculty, students and staff, and actually try to create a culture at McGill that is a culture of belonging.You will also be a professor of political science. How does that fit in?
There’s a reason I insisted on being a faculty member. I believe that the faculty needs to be fully engaged in these processes. I think my most successful time in terms of doing this work was when I first got to UT Austin and I was working with the Center for African and African American Studies. We were working together across departments, not just in Political Science, to bring in faculty from different departments. And we got full support from the Provost.
I’ve seen these initiatives fail when there isn’t that kind of ground-level work being done.
The other side of it is that you have to have buy in from the leadership. One of the reasons I’ve come to McGill is that this initiative has come from the top. You really need that top-down and bottom-up effort. A lot of times I see a top-down effort that doesn’t work because the faculty and others haven’t had a chance to buy in. And then I’ve seen bottom-up fail because there’s no support from the top. It has to be a mutual effort, top down and bottom up and the middle and every other level.
Obviously, not everybody’s going buy into it at first. That’s where radical empathy comes in.
I want to be understanding of everyone’s concerns and issues. Using radical empathy, even if we don’t agree I can at least try to see things from your perspective, and try to figure out a way we can find the solution that is beneficial to all sides.What can members of the McGill community do to support the work of the AP-ABR?
The first step is to educate yourself and make sure you understand what the Plan is all about.
There are so many different things we’re doing, so many different components – there are a lot of opportunities for people to plug in and help out.
My first goal is to get to know people, so I would ask people to reach out. I’m very collaborative. It doesn’t matter if we’re remote or not, I’d love to connect with people and talk to them about their plans.
I really don’t want us to be siloed and it’s really important that we are able to reach out across the entire campus and make sure this strategy is working for everybody.How do you see the AP-ABR in ‘the bigger picture’?
The AP-ABR could change academia, because this is McGill, a high-profile institution. If McGill can do this, what institution of higher learning can say they can’t? That’s why I took the job.
There are so many things we grew up with that we just took for granted – for example, that Black people are going to be discriminated against. As I’m moving up in my career, I know that yes, I’ll be the only Black person in the room most of the time. For so long, we’ve said ‘Hey, this is just what I have to live with.’ But I don’t want to live with this anymore. I want to change it.
An ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) diagnosis sends shockwaves through an individual’s life. The disease can strike at any age, though most commonly between the ages of 55 and 75. The average prognosis is just two to five years from when symptoms first appear. This motor neuron disease gradually paralyzes individuals as their nerve cells deteriorate, eventually affecting their ability to walk, talk, swallow and breathe. In Canada, on average eight people die of ALS each day.
In the past two decades, treatments to help slow the progression of the disease finally became available but gains in survival rates and slowing the rate of functional decline have been modest. For individuals facing this difficult prognosis, the clock is ticking. It is crucial to push ahead in developing new treatment pathways through testing in clinical trials.
The Clinical Research Unit at The Neuro (CRU), a leading centre in ALS trials, recently partnered with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel to spearhead research into a potential new approach to treat ALS. A clinical trial has recently launched at the CRU that will build on the pre-clinical research conducted in Prof. Eran Hornstein’s lab at the Weizmann Institute.Targeting a key enzyme
People with sporadic or familial ALS have decreased microRNA levels in their motor neurons. A key enzyme called DICER is critical for maintaining microRNA levels.
“DICER is inhibited in many forms of ALS and accordingly we thought that it could be a therapeutic target. If we could find a way to enhance its activity, it could be a way to restore microRNA levels and treat those patients with ALS,” explains Prof. Hornstein.
In previous biochemical studies, researchers found that the drug enoxacin was shown to affect DICER activity. Prof. Hornstein and his team hypothesized that it might help to restore DICER activity in ALS.
The Hornstein lab tested enoxacin’s effects on DICER in motor neuron cells, and in mice that have been engineered to develop ALS, and the results were promising enough to move to the next phase of testing enoxacin in patients with ALS. “Enoxacin increases DICER enzymatic activity and microRNA production. We saw a positive effect of amelioration of ALS in pre-clinical studies in mice. This was a good sign that this would be a therapeutic candidate in a drug for patients,” says Prof. Hornstein.Early clinical testing
In order to move the investigation of enoxacin into a clinical trial, Prof. Hornstein reached out to Dr. Angela Genge, Director of the Clinical Research Unit as well as the Centre of Excellence for ALS Research at The Neuro. The CRU’s Phase 1 unit, the first of its kind for ALS, enabled this exciting study to be held at The Neuro.
“This is an opportunity to see whether we can connect something that was shown to have an effect on the science of ALS, with a potential effect on the patient to see if it has a specific and direct impact on a terrible disease. And we would be doing this with an already developed drug that could give us a new path to treat these patients,” explains Dr. Genge. Drs Genge and Hornstein initiated the REALS-1 trial, which is a Phase Ib/IIa trial that will examine the safety, tolerability and target engagement of the drug in individuals with ALS.
“We will be looking at evidence that the enoxacin gets into the brain and spinal cord and can have an effect there. And we will be examining biomarkers as well,” says Prof. Hornstein. The evaluation of biomarkers and target engagement in this study meets an important need in ALS clinical research and demonstrates a high level of rigour even at this early stage.Network benefits
Before the trial could get underway, there was a roadblock: enoxacin was not readily accessible. Weizmann Canada, a local organization that supports the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, stepped in with a contact who proved pivotal to moving forward: Canadian pharmaceutical company Apotex, which produced the enoxacin and placebo tablets for the trial. “The Weizmann Institute network allowed us to establish trust and communication. It says a lot about the ability to push forward science and biomedical research through collaboration” says Prof. Hornstein.
The co-investigators are cautiously optimistic at this very early stage of clinical research. The new trial could be the first step in an innovative pathway for the treatment of ALS. “I am anxious to see if enoxacin progresses to further trial phases and if shown to be effective, this would open up a whole new avenue for using previously existing drugs in developing treatments for ALS, which would greatly speed up getting treatments to the people who need them” concludes Dr. Genge.
The trial team thanks CIHR, FRQS and the Israel Ministry of Health (within the ERARE-3 competitive grant framework), as well as Brain Canada, ALS Canada and Muscular Dystrophy Canada for their generous funding support.
To learn about the REALS-1 trial or to participate, visit the Clinical Research Unit at The Neuro..
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David Rolnick, assistant professor and Canada CIFAR AI Chair in the School of Computer Science, has today been named in the Pioneer category of MIT Technology Review’s annual list of ‘Innovators Under 35’.
Rolnick, who is also a core member of Mila – Quebec Institute of Artificial Intelligence, works at the intersection of two of McGill’s key strategic research areas: artificial intelligence and sustainability. His research focuses on developing a better understanding of AI systems and on applying AI to help tackle climate change, including innovative algorithms for electrical grid optimization, biodiversity monitoring, and accelerated scientific modeling.
Rolnick has helped to popularize the topic of AI applied to climate change. He led a twenty-author team in writing the foundational report, Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning, which laid out a roadmap for the field. He is co-founder and chair of the Climate Change AI initiative and serves as scientific co-director of the Montreal-based research hub, Sustainability in the Digital Age. At McGill, he teaches a graduate-level course, Machine Learning Applied to Climate Change, and works to advance interdisciplinary research via the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative (MSSI).
“I’m delighted to be named to the ‘Innovators Under 35’, which has included several of my personal heroes,” Rolnick said. “And I am glad to see the increasing interest within the AI community in cross-disciplinary partnerships for climate action.”
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A new study led by researchers from McGill University and INRAE found that between 51-60 per cent of the 64 million kilometres of rivers and streams on Earth that they investigated stop flowing periodically, or run dry for part of the year. It is the first-ever empirically grounded effort to quantify the global distribution of non-perennial rivers and streams. The research, which was published recently in Nature, calls for a paradigm shift in river science and management by revising foundational concepts which traditionally assumed year-round water flow in rivers and streams.
The map of non-perennial rivers resulting from this study, the first of its kind, also provides crucial baseline information for the assessment of future changes in river flow intermittence and for determining and monitoring the role of these rivers and streams in global water and biochemical cycles, as well as in supporting biological diversity.
“Non-perennial rivers and streams are very valuable ecosystems as they are home to many distinct species that are adapted to cycles of water presence and absence,” says Mathis Messager, first author of the study and PhD student both in Geography at McGill and at the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE). “These rivers can provide critical water and food sources for people and they play an important role in controlling water quality. But more often than not they are mismanaged or altogether excluded from management actions and conservation laws as they are simply overlooked.”Non-perennial rivers and streams found on all continents
“Given continued global climate and land use change, an increasingly large proportion of the global river network is expected to cease to flow seasonally over the coming decades,” said Bernhard Lehner, an Associate Professor in McGill’s Department of Geography and one of the co-senior authors on the paper. “In fact, many formerly perennial rivers and streams, including sections of iconic rivers such as the Nile, the Indus and the Colorado River have become intermittent in the past 50 years due to climate change, land use transitions, or the temporary or permanent withdrawal of water for human use and agriculture.”
The researchers were able to identify the most important environmental characteristics in determining whether a river periodically ceases to flow by statistically associating long-term records of water flow in 5615 locations around the world with information on the hydrology, climate, geology, and surrounding land cover of the rivers and streams monitored at these locations. They found, as expected, that non-perennial rivers are most common in arid places (where there is much more evaporation than rainfall) and that smaller rivers and streams have generally more variable flow and are thus more likely to dry up. But they also occur in tropical climates and even in the Arctic where rivers freeze up for parts of the year.
Interestingly, the study also suggests, based on preliminary estimates, that more than half of the world’s population lives in locations where the closest river or stream around them is non-perennial. Indeed, in many languages, multiple words exist to designate these types of watercourses and their mark on the landscape, highlighting the long history of inter-dependence between humans and seasonal freshwater systems.A long-standing neglect with significant consequences
Over the past decade, there have been several efforts to highlight the values and rapid ongoing degradation of non-perennial rivers and streams. Most freshwater science until now has focused on the functioning and conservation of perennial water bodies; and only recently have scientists started to realize the important consequences of flow cessation in rivers and streams. “Consequently, science-based methods for managing these unique ecosystems, such as tools and protocols to monitor the health of these rivers are still limited or absent,” adds Messager. “And this oversight leads to excessive water pumping, pollution, and overfishing of in many cases.”
“There have also been several recent attempts to remove non-perennial rivers from environmental legislation and national water governance systems, including in the U.S. and France,” adds Thibault Datry, a freshwater scientist at INRAE, and co-senior author on the paper. “By mapping non-perennial rivers and streams, our study pushes for a recognition of their prevalence and ecological significance by the scientific community. We hope that our study will trigger efforts to adequately manage these river ecosystems and halt attempts to exclude them from protective legislation.”
Brain Info / Info Cerveau is one of the newest science communication initiatives born at McGill. Founded by Dr. Reza Farivar, the director of the Integrated Program in Neuroscience (IPN), this student-run group seeks to answer community questions about neuroscience and the brain.
Since its inception in 2020, Brain Info has already successfully completed a pilot phase in which student volunteers answered over twenty questions from the community in English and French. The questions are submitted through an online form available on the Brain Info website, which was officially launched this March. Once submitted, questions are assigned to McGill masters and PhD students in neuroscience. Within a few weeks a customized, personalized, fact-checked answer is sent out privately to the submitter.Filling information gaps
This program has a lot to offer to the Montreal community, whom it is designed to serve, and to the graduate student volunteers involved with the project. Information is easy to access in the online world, but it can be very difficult to verify the accuracy of online sources. That is where an initiative like Brain Info can fill the gaps. Graduate student volunteers studying and conducting research on a broad range of topics such as brain development, Parkinson’s disease, or the visual system, utilize and build on their research skills by finding the answers to submitted questions.
Being part of the initiative provides student volunteers the opportunity to hone their science communication capabilities, which is becoming progressively important as the research community increases emphasis on making science more accessible to the public.
For Christophe Tanguay-Sabourin, a current neuroscience masters student and future medical student, the past year has already been a great learning experience. One thing which he found striking is, “That a given question can be seen in so many ways, from so many perspectives. Going from the molecular or cellular approach to more general physiological system, to more behavioural and clinical ways, all under the umbrella of neuroscience.”Encouraging people’s curiosity
On the other side of the equation, community members can learn about the latest research on a topic of their interest directly from someone who may be involved with that research, but in terms which are accessible to a non-specialist audience. The goal is to start a conversation with science at its focus. “It has been exciting to see such though-provoking questions come in from the community,” IPN PhD student Hilary Sweatman said, “It’s a great reminder that curiosity is something that we all share, scientist or not, and I feel privileged that we have the opportunity to answer and encourage these curiosities.”
McGill is no stranger to science communication, with excellent outreach programs in various departments, directed towards diverse audiences – from school students to bar patrons, and the one of a kind Office for Science and Society. IPN students themselves have a rich history of engaging with the public through initiatives such as BrainReach.
Brain Info continues the tradition of prioritizing science communication by widening the scope of offerings. The group is also building a strong social media presence where some of the answered questions are shared with permission to inform, delight, and hopefully, inspire a broader audience.
If you have a question about the brain on your brain, don’t hesitate to contact the Brain Info team. Consult the website for contact information.