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Centre de recherche
Wednesday, March 3 2021
Press release

Five major research projects being undertaken at CHU Sainte-Justine offer hope and promise

Almost $40 million in grants from the Innovation Fund of the Canada Foundation for Innovation

MONTREAL, March 3, 2021 – Today, the Right Honourable Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, announced more than $518 million in research infrastructure funding through the 2020 competition of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Innovation Fund. CHU Sainte-Justine is proud to announce that five innovative research projects will receive major funding as part of this competition.

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, will meet later today with some of the leaders of projects funded under this competition, including Professor Anick Bérard at CHU Sainte-Justine. (Watch the conversation at 3 p.m. ET)

At CHU Sainte-Justine

These five projects – representing a collaborative effort between researchers at CHU Sainte-Justine and other institutions – involve the acquisition or development of leading-edge infrastructure, including artificial intelligence, management of massive databases, gene therapy, cell and tissue engineering, and brain imaging. They will permit research capacity to grow and will support world-class research activities – all for the benefit of young patients and their families.

Our researchers are working actively in diverse areas of research, and their expertise will advance current knowledge in a number of fields. These include: risks associated with the use of medications during pregnancy for both mother and child; neurodevelopmental disorders; developing new therapeutic approaches to treat genetic diseases and cancer; improving patient management in intensive care units; and facilitating the use of genomic and health data to aid clinicians’ decision making.

Projects funded by the Innovation Fund will help ensure that Canada remains a leader in the exploration and production of knowledge, while generating significant social, environmental, economic or health benefits in addressing global challenges.

Projects being undertaken at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre

Canadian Mother-Child Cohort Active Surveillance Initiative (CAMCCO)
Prof. Anick Bérard
Co-Team Leader: Prof. Sherif Eltonsy, University of Manitoba
Funding: $2.9 M

Over 75% of pregnant women take medications of which the risks or benefits are not known.

The Canadian Mother-Child Cohort (CaMCCo) Active Surveillance Initiative project aims to quantify the risks and benefits of prescription drug use during pregnancy on short- and long-term maternal and child health outcomes, in order to have meaningful impacts on how medications are used and prescribed during pregnancy and childhood, and on how health policies are implemented.

To achieve this goal, large harmonized cohorts are needed. CaMCCo will fill this gap with a state-of-the-art infrastructure that will collect administrative, hospital and birth data.

A multi-disciplinary team from five Canadian provinces will be put in place to operate the large provincial health databases. The use of multi-provincial health data will also provide access to diverse populations and result in the development of a world-class active research and surveillance program in perinatal pharmaco-epidemiology.

CHUSJ Centre IMAGINE: Imaging for Mental Health Across Age, Genetics, Interactions, Neurons and the Environment
Prof. Patricia Conrod
Co-Team Leader: Dr. Gregory Lodygensky
Funding: $7.1 M

Because children cannot communicate their cognitive and psychological states as well as adults do, the use of nonverbal neurophysiological and neuroimaging strategies to refine diagnoses and evaluate treatment outcomes is a promising strategy for neurodevelopmental conditions.

CHUSJ Centre IMAGINE: Imaging for Mental Health Across Age, Genetics, Interactions, Neurons and the Environment will set up a multimodal pediatric digitization facility dedicated to research. This infrastructure will support computational and quantitative research with multimodal approaches in order to study changes in the neonatal, pediatric and adolescent brain with quantitative anatomical, metabolic and functional parameters during key developmental periods and in relation to important environmental and congenital influences.

This infrastructure will enable the setting up of a world-class pediatric imaging center that will contribute to the training of the next generation of pediatric brain health clinicians and researchers.

This is particularly relevant to research on pediatric populations, compared to adult populations, due to the rapidly changing nature of the child's brain.

Innovative Program in Gene, Cell and Tissue Engineering for the treatment of Pediatric Monogenic Diseases and Cancers
Dr. Elie Haddad
Co-Team Leader: Prof. Alexey V. Pshezhetsky
Funding: $6.8 M

There are more than 7,000 rare diseases, most of which are genetic diseases or cancers, including all childhood cancers. Because these rare illnesses are so diverse, many have no effective treatment. Therapies based on the modification and engineering of cells, genes and tissues are currently the main drivers of innovation in genetic diseases and cancer therapies. The initial results of these new therapies are promising, but their efficacy, feasibility and safety need to be improved before they can be used in a clinical setting.

The goal of the research program is to create a translational research platform to significantly accelerate the development of novel gene, cell and tissue therapies for the treatment of rare diseases and childhood cancers.

Although this program focuses on pediatric genetic diseases and cancers, the technologies developed will also be transposable to regenerative medicine and cancer immunotherapy in adults, significantly expanding its scope and impact.

MIIRCIC: Multimodal Intelligent Infrastructure for Research in Critically Ill Children
Dr. Philippe Jouvet
Co-Team Leader: Prof. Farida Cheriet, Polytechnique Montréal
Funding: $2.3 M

The role of Intensive Care Units (ICUs) is to manage patients in life-threatening situations. Treatment in ICUs has resulted in reduced mortality, shorter hospitalization times and fewer complications, due to continuous monitoring and a high staff/patient ratio. However, while medical knowledge and clinical information have increased considerably, the health system has constraints that are compounded by limited staff resources. Taken together, these considerations lead to three main challenges: 1) delays in the detection and management of life-threatening situations, 2) delays in the implementation of good practices, and 3) lack of research tools to conduct pragmatic clinical trials integrated into the ICU.

Rapid advances in clinical data management systems and artificial intelligence are opening up prospects for the development and validation of computerized clinical decision support (CCDS) systems to improve patient management. ICUs are the ideal clinical research environment for developing and validating CCDS’s because they collect large amounts of clinical data from intensive ongoing monitoring. 

The MIIRCIC project Multimodal Intelligent Infrastructure for Research in Critically Ill Children wants to organize a database and a powerful analysis infrastructure that will help in the development of a number of CCDS’s that can be used in clinical settings.

Projects in collaboration with the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre

Guillaume Bourque, McGill University
Co-Team Leader: Vincent Ferretti
Funding: $19.9 M

Mega-data are radically transforming biomedical research and health care around the world. Genomes tell us about individuals' predisposition to disease, their response to treatment, and the impact of environmental exposures on their health.

However, as a scientific community, our ability to interpret and exploit ever-increasing volumes of genomic and health data is still very limited. In order to realize the full potential of personalized medicine based on the harnessing of this massive data and the use of artificial intelligence (AI), Quebec urgently needs a high-performance software platform, an ethical-legal framework and a large-scale IT infrastructure for storing, sharing and interpreting this data with the aid of advanced analysis tools, including AI.

The aim of the SecureData4Health project is to create a secure cloud computing storage infrastructure, which will be unique in the world, for hosting, sharing and analyzing genomic and health data generated by research centers and hospitals. This infrastructure, of which the Quebec-funded part is hosted by Calcul Québec, will provide all Quebec researchers and projects with the software tools, storage and computing power they currently lack in order to carry out their research into genomics and AI. In addition, the project will contribute to the development of secure and confidential protocols for the exchange of clinical and genomic data that will promote the influence of Quebec researchers through Canadian and international collaborations for the greater benefit of patients.

The CFI makes sustained investments in research infrastructure – from the most basic to the most applied – for the benefit of technological development. Projects funded by the Innovation Fund will help keep Canada at the forefront of knowledge exploration and knowledge generation, while delivering significant social, environmental, health, economic and social benefits in addressing global challenges.

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The CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre is a leading mother-child research institution affiliated with Université de Montréal. It brings together more than 210 research investigators, including over 110 clinician-scientists, as well as 450 graduate and postgraduate students focused on finding innovative prevention means, faster and less invasive treatments, as well as personalized approaches to medicine. The Centre is part of CHU Sainte-Justine, which is the largest mother-child center in Canada.


For more than 20 years, the CFI has been giving researchers the tools they need to think big and innovate. Fostering a robust innovation system in Canada translates into jobs and new enterprises, better health, cleaner environments and, ultimately, vibrant communities. By investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions, the CFI also helps to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers and to support world-class research that strengthens the economy and improves the quality of life for all Canadians.

CHU Sainte-Justine

Maude Hoffmann
Communications, CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre

Media contact:

Florence Meney
Senior Advisor – Media Relations
CHU Sainte-Justine
Tel.: 514-755-2516

For information

Malorie Bertrand
Media Relations and Social Media Specialist
Canada Foundation for Innovation
C.: 613-227-0198

Media Relations
Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada

John Power
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

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Updated on 9/28/2022
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