Life Sciences
Major international breakthroughs

Photo of a lab scientist working with DNAQuébec has earned a reputation as a centre of excellence in the life sciences: we have made great contributions to biomedical research in many of the fields most relevant to today’s health challenges. Here are some of our researchers’ recent discoveries:


Neuroscience and aging

According to a recent Montréal study, Alzheimer’s disease is accelerated by an abnormal build-up of fat in the brain. This discovery paves the way for new diagnostic avenues and testing of drugs to control fat levels in other parts of the body. Researchers at the University of Montréal Hospital Research Center (CRCHUM) discovered fatty deposits in the brains of nine patients who died from Alzheimer’s and in those of genetically modified mice used as test models. The mapping of fat distribution in the brain has only recently become possible, thanks to a mass spectrometry technique used by chemists at the University of Montréal.

Dr. Judes Poirier, one of the world’s leading experts on treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and Vassilios Papadopoulos, Director of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, have developed a reliable, inexpensive diagnostic test to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. The blood test uses oxidation and measures the amount of DHEA present in the blood. While diagnosing Alzheimer’s remains a complex problem, this test will aid in large-scale identification of potential sufferers.

Chronic pain can be so disruptive that it causes changes in the brain, producing a thinning of the grey matter, which may lead to cognitive disor­ders. McGill University researchers Laura Stone and David Seminowicz have developed an effective treatment to slow these changes and even significantly reverse damage to the frontal lobe of the brain!


Photo of a human stem cellOncologists dream of being able to target cancer cells precisely while sparing healthy cells from exposure to the toxic effects of drugs. That dream will soon be a reality!


The team led by Sylvain Martel, Director of the École Polytechnique de Montréal’s NanoRobotics Laboratory, has developed a technique that uses remote-controlled microcarriers to deliver cancer drugs to the exact site of the tumour.

The University of Montréal Hospital Research Center (CRCHUM) has developed a biogel that shows promise in the fight against cancer, delivering anti-cancer agents directly into cancer tumours and killing them. The biogel has the tremendous advantage of being liquid at room temperature. It gels at 37 degrees Celsius, which is the normal human body temperature. Also, it is compatible with T cells, anti-cancer immune cells that are naturally produced by the body and able to destroy cancer cells. Though still in its early stages, the biogel brings hope for the treatment of cancer.

A research team from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), led by Dr. Lucy Gilbert, discovered that the most deadly type of ovarian cancer often starts in the Fallopian tubes rather than in the ovaries. The discovery could revolutionize the way this disease is diagnosed and treated.

The multidisciplinary team directed by Guy Sauvageau has made a giant leap forward in stem-cell research by producing large quantities of stem cells in the laboratory. That’s good news for patients waiting for a bone marrow transplant! In fact, all signs indicate that, in a few years, more such operations will be possible. Moreover, this discovery could aid in the treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.

Lifestyle diseases (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity)

Montréal is at the heart of a major medical discovery. For the first time, patients with heart disease have responded to a drug according to their genetic profile. To demonstrate the validity of this promising treatment, which is called dalcetrapib, the Montréal Heart Institute (MHI) launched an international clinical trial. This unique study puts Montréal and its scientists at the forefront of international research. To determine the drug’s reliability, a large-scale phase III study will be carried out over the next few years, enrolling a total of 5,000 patients across 1,000 centers in 33 countries. According to Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif, Director of the MHI Research Centre, should the study prove conclusive, it will mark the beginning of a new chapter for personalized medicine in cardiology – much like genes revolutionized the treatment of certain types of cancer.

Photo of a diabetic person taking a blood sugar testBrent Richards and his team have discovered a new genetic marker for coronary heart disease and the risk of type 2 diabetes. Their findings are the result of collabo­rations with international consortiums aimed at identifying the genetic determinants of these conditions.

Genomics and proteomics

Photo of optical fibresResearchers Yves De Koninck of Laval University and Yoan LeChasseur and Réal Vallée of Centre d’optique, photonique et laser have developed the finest fibre optic in the world.


Their instrument not only illuminates brain cells, it can analyze and even control them! This revolutionary tool is part of a brand new neurological discipline called “optogenetics.”

Personalized medicine


Photo of a doctor taking a patient’s blood pressurePrecision medicine (personalized medicine) holds considerable promi­se for the future, and Québec has everything it takes to make that goal a reality:


  • solid capabilities in scientific research, genomics and prote­omics;
  • high-tech research centres;
  • major projects involving tissue banks and databases, including the CARTaGENE project.


Precision medicine soon to be incorporated into medical and clinical practices

Québec is a forerunner in genomics. In the past five years, more than $450 million have been invested in personalized health care research partnerships by the private sector, as well as the federal and provincial governments.


Over the next seven years, Québec will also invest $75 million in major partnerships and initiatives, including some in precision medicine.


The Exactis Innovation Centre of Excellence in Precision Therapeutics aims to develop cancer treatments that are increasingly personalized by combining the latest discoveries in cancer biology with new approaches to clinical research.


The Personalized Medicine Partnership for Cancer is an organization that develops and tests new biomarkers for doctors who treat cancer patients.


The Québec – Clinical Research Organization in Cancer (Q-CROC) is a provincial interface for clinical research, bridging the gap between industry, government, healthcare establis­hments and the research community.


The Québec Network for Personalized Health Care (QNPHC) brings together stakeholders who share an interest or work in personalized health care, including academic researchers, clinicians, private companies (pharmaceutical, biotech­nology, health technologies, insurers, etc.), public organizations, patient groups and opinion leaders.


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