Pandemic, lockdown, virus, social distancing, variant: words heard so often in the media. Tainted with anxiety or synonymous with confusion, these terms mask a rich and hopeful scientific reality that plays out behind the doors of the CHUM Research Centre (CRCHUM).

Starting in March of 2020, our teams disrupted their research programs to launch more than 90 projects or clinical trials to answer the scientific questions raised by the pandemic. These many initiatives will allow our researchers to generate and share knowledge in the fields of immunology, epidemiology and public health to continue the global fight against the SARS‑CoV‑2 virus, responsible for the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Virus and variants in the line of fire

In close collaboration with Héma‑Québec, Andrés Finzi’s virology team developed serological tests that detect the presence of antibodies targeting the “key” of the virus in order to have a more accurate idea of how the epidemic is progressing in Quebec.

Our researcher studies, among other things, the immune responses of people vaccinated against SARS‑CoV‑2 and its variants. Several studies, including those of Andrés Finzi, showed a decrease in the ability of the antibodies generated by vaccination to neutralize the virus.

Despite this phenomenon, a cause for concern for the vaccination strategy, Finzi added an important qualifier: the antibodies can summon other immune system cells as reinforcement to fight the virus, mutated or not.

Today he is working on concocting a cocktail of beneficial antibodies that could be the basis of a future COVID‑19 treatment.

Beyond basic research, many clinical research initiatives were also carried out. For example, Dr. Daniel E. Kaufmann, in collaboration with researchers Nicolas Chomont and Andrés Finzi, developed a model based on three parameters (viral load, age, sex) that helps identify patients that will die of COVID‑19.

For her part, Dr. Catherine Larochelle and her team showed that many deregulated immune system responses are specifically associated with infection by the virus and with the severity of COVID‑19. Targeting patients more at risk of developing a severe form of COVID‑19 through a blood test could eventually be possible.

This advance is the result of the collective effort of several dozen people involved in research and clinical work at the CHUM who participated in this study and in the Quebec COVID‑19 biobank.

As for researcher Nathalie Grandvaux, she was appointed director of the Quebec COVID Network by the Fonds de recherche du Québec. She will coordinate research efforts at the provincial level in order to accelerate discoveries and ensure that Quebec is better prepared to deal with the next pandemic.

Watching over the more vulnerable among us

Did you know that 20% of the adult population in Canada live with chronic pain? Researchers Manon Choinière and Gabrielle Pagé, along with their postdoctoral researcher, Lise Dassieu, looked at the impact of the pandemic on the lives of these thousands of people. Their goal was to determine how this additional source of stress affected their pain, quality of life and emotional well-being.

This research aspect is also being explored by researcher Isabelle Doré. Along with researcher Mélanie Dieudé and patient-partner Sylvain Bédard, she is documenting the effects of COVID‑19 on the healthy lifestyle habits and mental health of immunocompromised people, whether organ, tissue or stem-cell recipients.

Quebec’s hospital community hasn’t escaped the attention of our researchers either. To help hospital employees monitor their psychological well-being, in May 2020, Dr. Nicolas Bergeron and Steve Geoffrion, a researcher at the Centre de Recherche de l’Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Montréal, launched a mobile application for stress reaction self-monitoring. They showed that 85% of hospital employees have adapted well despite the difficult conditions.

At the Canadian level, Yan Kestens and his colleagues from Université de Montréal have been concentrating on better understanding how our activities, social interactions and mental health are affected during and after the health crisis.

High-level recognition

The CRCHUM’s research teams were very successful at the most recent provincial and federal funding competitions. Drs. Marie-Pascale Pomey, Cécile Tremblay and Michaël Chassé received $2.3M in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for their projects chosen as part of the COVID‑19 Rapid Research Funding Opportunity.

To draft a series of practical guides to meet the urgent needs of drug users during the pandemic, Dr. Julie Bruneau was awarded a $1M grant from the CIHR.

Nathalie Grandvaux and Andrés Finzi received $1.8M from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and from the Government of Quebec for the purchase of new equipment for the biosafety level 3 laboratory, a facility that meets the most stringent international standards. Our up-and-coming scientists train in this lab to handle and study viruses and to develop antiviral drugs and vaccines. This funding will allow us to increase Quebec’s capacity to conduct research on the current pandemic and any future ones.

At the provincial and national levels, several CRCHUM researchers provide information and advice to governing bodies, whether it be the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, the Fonds de recherche du Québec, Université de Montréal, the House of Commons or the different national committees interested in infection by SARS‑CoV‑2, vaccination and immunity.

Leveraging and sharing our knowledge, getting closely involved in public health-related decisions and monitoring variants and vaccination policies are part of how we see science. We dare to explore further and deeper so that as many people as possible can benefit from the results of our research.

Scientific facts first!

Misinformation has made its way into every aspect of life. In the media, on social networks, in our daily lives.

As Vincent Poitout, Director of Research at the CHUM reminds us in his interview, “In certain media outlets, some scientists, using the authority of their titles, discussed subjects that were not in their area of expertise. In my mind, pseudo-experts are the real danger. Their words are unfortunately fodder for conspiracy theorists, contributing additional misinformation.”

To fight fake news, many CRCHUM researchers have spoken up, accurately and seriously, to convey validated scientific facts in accessible language to their fellow citizens. We have seen their words in popular newspapers and heard them on radio and TV shows.

This collective duty, this individual responsibility shared by all our scientists, allows science to engage in a dialogue with society, in a spirit of fraternity.

In our fight against misinformation, follow us on our social media pages.


Les faits scientifiques d’abord!

La désinformation s’est infiltrée partout. Dans les médias, dans les réseaux sociaux, dans nos vies quotidiennes.

Comme le rappelle justement Vincent Poitout, directeur de la recherche du CHUM dans son entrevue, « dans certains médias, certains scientifiques, sous couvert de leur titre, se sont prononcés sur des sujets qu’ils ne maîtrisaient pas. Les pseudo-experts : c’est le véritable danger, selon moi. Leurs propos ont le malheur d’alimenter les tribunes complotistes et de contribuer à la désinformation. »

Pour lutter contre les fausses nouvelles, de nombreux chercheurs et chercheuses du CRCHUM ont pris la parole avec justesse et sobriété pour communiquer à leurs concitoyens des faits scientifiques validés dans un langage accessible. Que ce soit dans des quotidiens populaires, des émissions de radio ou de télé grand public.

Un devoir collectif, une responsabilité individuelle partagée par chacun de nos scientifiques qui ont permis à la science de dialoguer avec la société. En toute fraternité.

Dans notre lutte contre la désinformation, suivez-nous sur les médias sociaux.