The unanticipated early origins of childhood brain cancer

Canadian researchers identify earliest traces of brain cancer long before the disease becomes symptomatic

Brain tumours are the leading cause of non-accidental death in children in Canada, but little is known about when these tumours form or how they develop. Researchers from SickKids, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and McGill University, have recently identified the cells that are thought to give rise to certain brain tumours in children and discovered that these cells first appear in the embryonic stage of a mammal’s development – far earlier than they had expected.

Their findings, published today in Nature, could lead the way to the discovery of better treatments to attack these lethal tumours.

“The brain is extraordinarily complex. These findings are not only important for better understanding brain tumours but they will also allow us to learn more about these cells and how they work, in order to help children with neurodevelopmental delays. What we have accomplished as a team in this study brings hope for patients,” says co-lead of the study, Dr. Nada Jabado, paediatric hemato-oncologist and senior scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and a professor of Pediatrics and Human genetics at McGill University. Read more here.

Québec siblings with rare orphan disease lead to discovery of rare genetic diseases

Discovery of mutations in ACTL6B gene offers insight into brain development

Mutations in a gene involved in brain development have led to the discovery of two new neurodevelopmental diseases by an international team led by researchers at McGill University and CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center.

The first clues about the rare disorder arose after doctors were unable to diagnose why two siblings from Québec City were experiencing seizures and neurodevelopmental deficits. Desperate, the children’s family turned to Carl Ernst at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal for answers.

Ernst, who is also a professor in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry, and his team used harvested skin cells from the toddlers and “reprogrammed” them to assume a stem cell-like state—induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). By making neurons from the iPSCs and comparing them to those of healthy individuals, the researchers found that they did not develop properly. Upon further investigation, they discovered a potential culprit: the family carried a mutation in ACTL6B – an epigenetic regulator implicated in neuronal development.

Read more here.

Q&A with Vincent Mooser, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Genomic Medicine

We are at the dawn of something really big in medicine and I want to be a part of it. I want to make my small contribution to the greater effort

Bartha Knoppers awarded 2019 Friesen Prize

McGill professor Bartha Knoppers, a global leader in the study of legal, social and ethical issues related to biomedical research in human genetics and genomics, has been awarded the 2019 Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research by the Friends of Canadian Institutes of Health Research (FCIHR).

Dr. Knoppers is “one of the most prolific and innovative health policy researchers in Canada and beyond,” FCHIR said in announcing the award. “She has been a leader in the interface of ethics and law, as applied to health research policy, stem cell research, human gene editing, biobanking and global data sharing. Bartha is also a brilliant science communicator and public figure, who gives generously of her time for social good.”

Dr. Knoppers is Professor of Medicine, Department of Human Genetics, with appointments in Law and Biomedical Ethics at McGill and is also Director, Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill and Canada Research Chair in Law and Medicine.

Read more here.

Bravo Gala 2019

Members of the Department of Human Genetics, Dr. David Rosenblatt, Dr. Nada Jabado and Dr. Hamed Najafabadi, were among those honored at McGill’s 2019 Bravo Gala. The annual event, hosted by McGill’s Research and Innovation, welcomed approximately 250 guests, including researchers and their families and friends, faculty members, students, as well as members of McGill’s academic leadership – all of whom came together to celebrate researchers and scholars across disciplines who won major provincial, national and international prizes and awards in 2018. Read more here.

Why better health care depends on improving data sharing

The future of personalized medicine is dependent on data sharing, according to Yann Joly, Research Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policies (right); and Guillaume Bourque, Director of the Canadian Centre for Computational Genomics.

Using big data techniques to analyze the function of human genes is already helping develop treatments tailored to individual patients. The more data researchers can access from across the world, the better chances of treating even rare diseases. But privacy and consent regulations differ by country, making sharing this information across borders slow and frustrating.

Researchers at McGill, in partnership with their international and Canadian colleagues, are developing new tools and frameworks to solve this problem, so that scientists anywhere in the world can openly contribute and access information.

We sat down to talk epigenetics, open science and personalized medicine with Guillaume Bourque, Director of the Canadian Centre for Computational Genomics, and Yann Joly, Research Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policies.

Read more here


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Funding, Jobs and Other Announcements:

Jobs and Other Opportunities:

  • McGill Doctoral Internship Program offers McGill’s doctoral students at the end of their degree the opportunity to learn and grow outside of academia through a 3-month remunerated internship. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. Click here for testimonials.

Awards – Call for Nominations:

Funding Opportunities

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May 2019

  • May 21, 2019 from 8:30am to 5:00pm – Human Genetics Graduate and Postdoctoral Student Reseach Day.  To be held at the Palmer Amphitheatre, McIntyre Medical Sciences Building.  Keynote Speaker: Dr. Kathleen H. Burns’ lecture entitled “Our conflict with transposable elements and its implications for human disease” at 4:00pm.
  • May 30, 2019 at 2:00pm DATE UPDATED – Saumeh Saeedi’s  M.Sc. Seminar entitled “Neural-derived biomarkers for antidepressant response from plasma exosomes“. Supervisor: Gustavo Turecki. To be held at The Douglas Institute, 6875 Boulevard Lasalle, Rm F-2119.
  • May 30, 2019 at 3:00pm – Dusan Garic’s Ph.D. Oral Defence   entitled “Regulation of Inflammation in Cystic Fibrosis”.  Supervisor: Dr. Danuta Radzioch.  To be held at MUHC, Glen Site, Rm EM1.3509.
  • May 31, 2019 at 1:30pm – Katya Rossokhata’s M.Sc. Seminar entitled “Investigating PRC2 recruitment in High-grade gliomas within the context of H3K27M mutation“. Supervisor: Nada Jabado.   To be held at MUHC, Glen Site, Rm EM1.3509.
  • May 31, 2019 from 6:30 to 10:00pm – HGSS End-of-Year Gala.  To be held at the Faculty Club, Billiards Room.  Click here to register.
  • June 6, 2019 at 10:30am – Fiona Allum-Bordage’s Ph.D. Oral Defence entitled Capturing epigenomes at high-resolution for insight into genome function and metabolic disease risk”. Supervisors: Drs. Elin Grundberg and Jamie Engert.  To be held at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, 1160 Pine Ave West  Karp Amphitheatre, Rm 501.
  • June 6, 2019 at 4:00pm – Vlad Rudakou’s M.Sc. Seminar entitled A closer look into Parkinson’s Disease GWAS genes: targeted next-generation sequencing approach”. Supervisor: Dr. Ziv Gan-Or.  To be held at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, 1160 Pine Ave West  Karp Amphitheatre, Rm 501.
  • June 6, 2019 at 4:30pm – Amanda Vaccarella’s M.Sc. Seminar entitled Identification of Claudin-8 Interaction Partners during Neural Tube Closure”. Supervisor: Dr. Aimee Ryan.  To be held at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, 1160 Pine Ave West  Karp Amphitheatre, Rm 501.

5-Week Courses on Academic Writing and Presenting

This spring, Graphos is offering 5-week, pass/fail courses designed to help students develop clear and coherent manuscripts and oral presentations.

Cornerstones of Academic Writing (CEAP 642)
Fundamentals of Academic Presentations
(CEAP 652)
Literature Review 1: Summary and Critique
(CEAP 661) 

If English is not your first language and you are new to academic writing in English, please consider these specialised courses:

Strategies for Effective Communication in English (CESL 631)
Fundamentals of Academic Writing in English (CESL 641)
Pronunciation for Effective Communication (CESL 651) 

Doctoral students and many Master’s students can take the courses without extra fees, thanks to the University’s tuition sponsorship program.  Registration is also open for our fall and winter courses, including CEAP 665 (Lit Review 2) and CCOM 614 (Communicating Science to the Public).

If you have questions about these courses or other Graphos and McGill Writing Centre offerings (workshops, peer writing groups, writing retreats, tutorial service), please contact us at

Graduate Mobility Awards 2018-19

The Graduate Mobility Award, successfully launched in 2016, encourages graduate students to study and conduct research abroad as part of their McGill degree program.

A recent review by the Quebec Ministry of Education has led to changes in the program rules. New regulations concerning award value and eligibility criteria will therefore come into effect as of April 1st, 2019. Applications approved at the Faculty level as of April 1st  must adhere to the amended regulations.

 Amendments in Value of Award

Going forward, the amount of funding provided by the Graduate Mobility Award must be between $750 and $1,500 per month. The amount of funding for travel of duration shorter than a month will be prorated accordingly.

 Amendments in Eligibility

In order to be eligible for the Graduate Mobility Awards, students:

  • May travel for up to 2 terms (period may not exceed 8 months);
  • Cannot undertake a research project in a country where they hold citizenship (unless they are a permanent resident or citizen of Canada);
  • Cannot undertake a research project at an institution where they have previously completed a degree.

Other Mobility Opportunities

The GPS website lists several external funding opportunities that support international travel. These include, but are not limited to, the Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplements for CGSM, CGSD and Vanier holders; the Québec / Foreign Government Scholarship Program with multiple destinations; and the Mitacs Globalink Research Award which provides $6,000 for 12–24-week research projects at universities overseas.

Important update on the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program

On February 14, 2019, Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) made important changes to the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) Program. The new guidelines are effective as of February 14, 2019 and apply to applications received on or after this date.

Students now have 180 days from completion of their studies to apply for their PGWP from within Canada or from outside of Canada.

  • Be careful: Your study permit becomes invalid 90 days after completion of studies or the day on which it expires, whichever comes first, as per section 222 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. If you don’t apply for your PGWP before your study permit becomes invalid, you must either: apply to change your status to a visitor or leave Canada. See timeline below.

The new guidelines state that students who have changed their status to a visitor before their study permit expires, may subsequently apply for their PGWP from within Canada

  • Be careful: If you submit your PGWP application online from within Canada as a visitor, you will not have the authorization to work while you wait for your PGWP. Only PGWP applicants who had a valid study permit at the time they submitted their PGWP application can work full-time while waiting for a decision on their application as per section 186(w) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations.

New guidelines now require applicants to include both their transcript and proof of completion of studies when applying for their PGWP. Students that have taken a leave of absence, may still be eligible for the PGWP.

  • Be careful: The eligibility requirement for the PGWP is that you maintain a full-time student status in Canada throughout your studies. If you are concerned that you do not meet this eligibility requirement, please meet with an immigration advisor at ISS.

For the full text, please see IRCC’s website.

Important immigration update concerning study permits

As of January 11, 2019, international students must meet the following study permit conditions:

  • Remain enrolled until they complete their studies and
  • Actively pursue their studies

Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) now provides guidelines on how to determine whether or not an international student is compliant to their study permit conditions. These guidelines highlight the following:

  • International students in Quebec must be enrolled in full-time studies in order to be considered actively pursuing their studies.
  • International students are expected to make reasonable progress to complete their program.
  • International students who take an institutionally approved leave of no more than 150 days will be considered compliant and be considered to have actively pursued their studies.
  • If the leave is more than 150 days, then international students will need to change their status to a visitor or leave Canada prior to the end of the 150 day period.
  • International students in Canada with a valid study permit and who have deferred their admission can remain in Canada with their study permit up to 150 days, after which they must change their status to a visitor or leave Canada.

For more information, refer to IRCC’s website or contact ISS.


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