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.

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McGill team part of international group of scientists that identify rare pediatric brain disorder

Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette

Emily Standen’s pregnancy was uneventful, but it was clear as soon as her daughter Mathilde Poliquin was born, in January of 2013 at the McGill University Health Centre‘s Royal Victoria Hospital, a month early, that there was a problem.

A pediatrician popped his head into the room and said, “I need to speak to the father.” Gabriel Poliquin remembers being told, “Something is wrong. We don’t know what it is.”

The baby was immediately transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Her head was smaller than normal and her neurological exam was “very abnormal,” recalled MUHC pediatric neurologist Geneviève Bernard, and she had severe epilepsy.

Read more here.

Designing precision tools to mine DNA data

Ludmer Centre Scientific Director Celia Greenwood secured over $600K in funding for new research, Precision Medicine in Cellular Epigenomic, from the recent Genome Canada competitions.

To understand brain development, researchers need to unlock the secrets of our DNA. Currently, we can collect data on multiple aspects of DNA, but to extract meaning from the ever-expanding data trove requires the right tools: sophisticated algorithms and software applications that automate complex analytical processes at the push of a button. Building these tools takes a highly skilled, transdisciplinary team. Funded by a new three-year Genome Canada Bioinformatics and Computational Biology grant, Dr Celia Greenwood has brought together a team of experts to advance tool-development for processing DNA methylation data. The end goal of the research program is to develop tools that will impact research across multiple disorders, physical and mental.

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Isabella Straub – McGill MedStar Award

For her publication entitled “Loss of CHCHD10–CHCHD2 complexes required for respiration underlies the pathogenicity of a CHCHD10 mutation in ALS “, Ph,D. candidate, Isabelle Straub (Supervisor: Dr. Eric Shoubridge) has been chosen to receive a McGill MedStar Award in recognition of the excellent research carried out in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. Congratulations, Isabella!

McGill genomics research projects to receive $10M in federal, provincial funding

Major federal and provincial investments in genomics research were announced this week following three recent Genome Canada competitions. The announcement, made at University of Guelph, includes over $10 million in funding to seven projects led by McGill researchers.

A team led by McGill professors Mathieu Blanchette, Jacek Majewski and, Jérome Waldispühl will create and release improved computational and statistical tools for analyzing 3D data in their native 3D context. Their new tools will be integrated with the team’s 3D visualization platform that will help scientists explore the data, build new hypotheses and test them in rigorous statistical frameworks. The results of this project will be made widely available through open-source software that will enable statistically robust analysis of individual and groups of 3D genomic data; provide a virtual reality-based 3D genome browser supporting integrated visualization of genomic data; and include a toolset for integrative mining of genomic and epigenomic data in their 3D genome context. A lay version of the visualization platform will also be used for community outreach through exhibits in schools and museums. Read more here.

McGill researchers among recipients of $34 million grant to combat cancer

Researchers from McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) in Montreal are part of a multinational team led by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), whose project was recently selected for funding through Cancer Research UK’s (CRUK) Grand Challenge competition — an international funding initiative that aims to address some of the biggest global challenges in cancer research. The multidisciplinary team will receive 20 million British pounds (nearly 34 million Canadian dollars) over four years to explore the links between chronic inflammation and cancer.

The project, known as STrOmal ReprograMing (STORMing Cancer) Provides New Directions to Prevent and Revert Chronic Inflammation, aims to find novel ways of treating cancer caused by inflammation and to develop new options to prevent cancer from developing in high-risk patients with chronic inflammatory diseases.

“I am thrilled to be part of this world-class cancer research hub, along with colleagues from the RI-MUHC and McGill,” said co-investigator Dr. Lorenzo Ferri, David S. Mulder Chair in Surgery at McGill and a clinician-scientist from the Cancer Research Program at the RI-MUHC. “This grant will allow us to examine cancer from a different angle. Rather than solely studying the mutations in cancer cells, as we’ve been doing for decades, the STORMing Cancer project will aim to identify the signals and drivers of chronic inflammation that result in alterations to the protein and cellular “scaffolding” supporting tissues ultimately leading to cancer.” Read more here.

Shared genetic marker offers new promise in targeting specific ovarian and lung cancers

Two new papers, published simultaneously in Nature Communications and led by researchers at McGill University, offer promise that a drug currently used to treat estrogen positive breast cancer may be effective in treating two different types of cancer, one rare and one common form.

The breakthrough discovery launching this research came in 2014 when Dr. William Foulkes, James McGill Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Oncology and Human Genetics at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and a medical geneticist at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), showed that small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type (SCCOHT), a rare but highly fatal cancer which primarily strikes younger women, is caused by mutations in the gene SMARCA4. 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

  • Islamic Development Bank Scholorships – the applicant (new or continuing student) must be conducting research in Sustainability Sciences, and be a citizen of one of the IDB member countries. Apply online through the IDB portal Deadline for application February 28, 2019.
  • Gordon Shore Prize Created by CQDM, Diazon Pharmaceuticals, the Oncopole, and Mitacs, the Gordon Shore Prize is awarded to new graduates whose masters or doctoral thesis demonstrated their research excellence in the life science field. Deadline for application is March 18, 2019
  • Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation Fellowships -The Stavros S. Niarchos Fellowship for Excellence in Graduate Education, established in 2013, celebrates the 70th anniversary of Greece-Canada relations. The fellowship is awarded annually to a talented applicant who has been accepted to pursue a research-based graduate degree at McGill. Deadline for application is March 20, 2019.
  • 2019 L’Oréal Canada For Women in Science Research Excellence Fellowships – offers two (2) fellowships of $20,000 CAD each to female post-doctoral researchers in the field of Life Sciences and Engineering/Pure and Applied Sciences. Deadline for application: March 22, 2019
  • Research Scholarship Program in Turkey – Funding opportunity for research in Turkey. PhD holders and PhD candidates at dissertation stage are eligible to apply. Deadline for application is March 31, 2019
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March 2019

  • March 12, 2019 at 12:00pm – McGill’s Seminar Series in Quantitative Life Sciences and Medicine  presents “Rise of the Planet of the Apps: Ethical and Legal Considerations of mhealth Apps in Medical Research“. Speaker: Dr. Ma’n Zawati.  To be held at the Montreal Neurological Institute, DeGranpre Communications Centre.
  • March 12, 2019 at 4:00pm – Mounira Ibrahim’s M.Sc. Seminar entitled “Role of Prolactin and FOXA1 in Triple Negative Breast Cancer Tumorigenesis”.  Supervisor: Dr. Ali Suhad.  To be held at the Research Institute of the MUHC- Glen site, Rm EM1.3509
  • March 18, 2019 from 9:00am to 5:00pm13th Annual HGSS ConferenceHuman Genome Editing: Myths and Realities of Rewriting the Final Draft  Keynote Speaker: Dr. Gerald P. Schatten, University of Pittsburgh.  To be held at New Residence Hall, 3625 Av. du Parc, Montréal,  Register here
  • March 21, 2019 at 3:00pm – Simon Papillon-Cavanagh’s Ph.D. Oral Defence entitled “Leveraging Epigenome-Based Subgroups to Uncover Mechanisms of Tumorigenesis“. Supervisor: Dr. Jacek Majewski. To be held at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, 1160 Pine Ave West, Rm 501
  • March 25, 2019 at 4:00pm – Biochemistry Seminar – Quastel Lecturer – Dr. David O. Morgan (University of California, San Francisco).  Talk entitled “Biochemical mechanisms in the control of chromosomal segregation“.  To the held at McIntryre Medical Sciences Building, 3655 Promenade Sir William Osler,  Martin Theatre, Rm 504
  • April 4, 2019 at 4:00pm  – Pubudu Mudiyanselage’s M.Sc. Seminar entitled “Characterization of epigenetic changes in clear cell renal cell carcinoma and their connection to VHL deficiency”. Supervisors: Drs. Yasser Riazalhosseini and Hamed Najafabadi.  To be held at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, 1160 Pine Ave West, Rm 501
  • April 15, 2019 at 1:00pm – DATE UPDATED Guoyue Xu’s M.Sc. Seminar entitled “A mutation in Bisphosphoglycerate Mutase protects against malaria“.  Supervisor: Dr. Philippe Gros. To be held at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, 1160 Pine Ave West, Rm 501
  • April 26, 2019 at 1:30pm – 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

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.

Work opportunity: Pre-Departure Regional Session Host Positions

Have you lived or travelled outside of Canada? Are you interested in helping to prepare students for their studies abroad?

McGill Abroad is hiring students to host regional sessions at Pre-Departure Orientation on Thursday, April 11th, 7-8pm.

Hosts must have lived outside of Canada or travelled for an extended period for University-related activities to one of the regions listed below. Hosts will lead an intercultural session for students travelling to the same region to help prepare them for their experience abroad.


  • Africa (East, West and South Africa)
  • Australia / New Zealand
  • Caribbean
  • East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea)
  • Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia)
  • France
  • Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama)
  • Mediterranean (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey)
  • South Asia (India)
  • Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden)
  • Western Europe (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom)

Regional session hosts must be available for a short, 1 hour training session, which will take place a week before the event. On the day of the event (April 11), hosts are asked to arrive at 6:30 PM.

Hosts must be eligible to work in Canada and will be compensated $50 for their duties.

If this opportunity interests you, please fill out this application form or email mcgillabroad@mcgill.ca with any questions.


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