Fledgling network brings together McGill’s stem cell researchers

Dr. Linda Peltier

With Dr. Pierre Laneuville, who first encouraged her to study in Experimental Medicine at McGill, Linda Peltier, PhD (Exp. Med.)’14, (pictured) developed a way to make use of cord blood units that would have otherwise been rejected. “We did transplants on seven patients with leukemia or lymphoma and five are still alive and disease-free after five years.”

By Anne Chudobiak

“Many people at McGill don’t know what our scientific community is doing in stem cell research,” says Dr. Michel Tremblay, James McGill Professor and Jeanne and J.-Louis Lévesque Chair in Cancer Research, from his office at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre.

Linda Peltier, PhD (Exp. Med.)’14, is trying to change that.

With Tremblay and four others, she is one of the cofounders of McGill’s Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) Network, a group bringing together various researchers across disciplines, created with the help of funding from the Richard and Edith Strauss Canada Foundation.

“We needed a platform,” explains Peltier, Administrative Director of the Clinical Research Cord Blood Bank at McGill, and an RN with thirty-five years of experience, who established the second public cord blood bank in Canada, for Héma-Québec.

“When you look at the Canadian stem cell literature, McGill University ranks third as the most productive university in Canada in this field,” says Tremblay. This pioneering role hearkens back to the 1950s, when McGill greats C.P. Leblond, DSc, and Yves Clermont, PhD’53, were the first to identify stem cell renewal theory and the first to use the term “stem cell” in the context of biological science, effectively launching the field.

The Network is an attempt to make it easier for McGill researchers working in this area to find one another and promote their discoveries.

When the initiative began, in 2014, “we wanted to see if everyone was on the same page,” says Peltier. In spite of having only a month and a half to prepare, they were able to attract 76 principal investigators from six different faculties and over 20 different departments to their first workshop, where several goals were established, including the initiation of an educational program and the planning of a symposium.

The first symposium was held last November. The only problem? So many people came that the room was too small. A second was held in October.

The Network’s Education Committee, chaired by Dr. Terry Hébert, Professor, Pharmacology & Therapeutics, is currently in discussion with Experimental Medicine regarding the creation of a graduate program in stem cells and regenerative medicine. It is also collaborating with the University of Toronto and the Université de Montréal on the development of a training program in Signaling Networks and Cellular Responses to Environmental Stimuli (SiNCRES).

Ultimately, Tremblay would like to see the establishment of an SCRM Centre dedicated to the promotion of this field at McGill. “It would be game-changing to have a director who is recruited to McGill as a Chair,” he says.

“All of the work that we have done so far has been pro bono,” Peltier explains.

But, they say, this work needs to be done now: In a few short years, there will already be patients receiving implants for cartilage regeneration.

“Stem cells will touch all fields of medicine,” says Tremblay.

“As well as Arts, Law, Engineering, etc.,” Peltier adds.

“And we have great people doing stem cell research at McGill,” says Tremblay, citing the work of fellow Network cofounder, Steven Paraskevas, MDCM’92, PhD’04, at the islet stem cell lab for diabetes research at the McGill University and Génome Québec Innovation Centre, as just one example of many.

In the meantime, the Network is doing what it can. In this, it also has the help of its other cofounders, Dr. Inés Colmegna, Assistant Professor, Rheumatology, Craig Hasilo, PhD’16, Manager, Human Islet Transplant Laboratory, McGill University Health Centre, and Dr. Pierre Laneuville, Assistant Professor, Oncology.

“Linda has many great qualities. One is perseverance. This Network would not exist without her.”

“I believe in it,” says Peltier. “The main goal is to help patients.”

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