MI4: Pediatric researchers unite to tackle infection and immunity

Two inter-institutional teams start research projects to address rare immune diseases and antibiotic overuse.

Improving the appropriateness of antibiotic use to treat pneumonia

Antibiotic overuse is an important cause of bacterial antibiotic resistance. Most pediatric pneumonias are caused by viruses, for which antibiotics are not necessary. However, children sick enough to be hospitalized for such lung infections typically receive antibiotics because there are currently no adequate tests to exclude the possibility of bacterial pneumonia, which requires prompt antibiotic treatment.

The first project, led by Dr. Jesse Papenburg at the Children’s and Dr. Jocelyn Gravel at CHU Sainte-Justine, will evaluate the feasibility of collecting high quality samples and performing advanced laboratory and statistical analyses to test new ways to distinguish between viral and bacterial pneumonia in children. If successful, this approach will improve the diagnosis of bacterial pneumonia, allowing doctors to safely use fewer antibiotics, the key to fighting antibiotic resistance.

“Infectious and immune diseases are among the greatest threats facing humanity, at a level on par with climate change.”

Dr. Don Sheppard, Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University, scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and Director of MI4.

Developing innovative modeling of primary immunodeficiencies

Rare chronic immune disorders, known as primary immunodeficiencies (PID), represent a large, heterogeneous group of diseases responsible for a wide range of illnesses including susceptibility to infection, autoimmunity, allergies and cancer. Advances in DNA sequencing have led to the identification of many genetic changes that are linked to PID. However confirming which genes are responsible for PID in a given patient can be challenging. This may lead to over- or under-diagnosis of PID, with impacts on patient care.

Led by Dr. Constantin Polychronakos at the Children’s and Dr. Fabien Touzot at CHU Sainte-Justine, the second project aims to establish an innovative research platform that will identify which genetic changes underlie the development of PID, combining the strengths and resolution of cutting-edge technologies including stem cells, genome engineering, and pre-clinical models. This innovative platform will direct patient diagnosis and care and permit testing of therapies in participating patients.

First pediatric grants for MI4

Established in April 2018, MI4 aims to foster interdisciplinary research to discover, develop and implement innovative solutions for infectious and immune threats to human health. The pediatric seed fund grant components of MI4, made possible through contributions from the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, are designed to establish new, inter-institutional translational research teams linking world-class pediatric investigators at the two institutions to support preliminary innovative new ideas, and proof-of-concept studies with the potential to improve child health. The projects will each receive $150,000 over two years to carry out their work.

“We are very proud that Dr. Papenburg and Dr. Polychronakos have been rewarded for their dedicated, hard work of the last few years. Their innovative projects are poised to spearhead the optimization of children’s health, and are part of the Children’s continued efforts to be at the forefront of pediatric healthcare and Finding Unexpected Ways to Heal.”

- Renée Vézina, President, The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation