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Centre de recherche
Wednesday, March 3 2021
Press release

Major grant for an international neurodevelopment project at CHU Sainte-Justine

MONTREAL, March 3, 2021 – CHUSJ Centre IMAGINE: Imaging for Mental Health Across Age, Genetics, Interactions, Neurons and the Environment, led by Dr. Patricia Conrod and Dr. Gregory Lodygensky at CHU Sainte-Justine, has been awarded $7.1 million in funding as part of the 2020 competition of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Innovation Fund.

This funding confirms the global leadership of CHU Sainte-Justine's researchers in the advancement of knowledge on neurodevelopmental disorders.

Neurodevelopmental disorders

Neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in Canada. Many reports estimate that 70% of these conditions originate in the neonatal period, or in childhood or adolescence, highlighting the critical role of neurodevelopmental processes in such conditions.

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.

"In order to support and optimize our strategy, it was essential to set up cutting-edge research infrastructures so that our CHUSJ Centre IMAGINE team could stay at the forefront of knowledge exploration and knowledge generation in neurodevelopment," said Dr. Patricia Conrod, CHU Sainte-Justine researcher and professor of psychiatry at Université de Montréal. 

World-class Pediatric Imaging Centre

The research team will conduct a longitudinal study of brain changes in children with a genetic risk factor, or who were exposed to complications at birth (including prematurity) or to environmental toxins (including trauma, psychosocial stress and substance abuse) – three key risk factors for neurodevelopmental disorders and neuropsychiatric conditions in adults.

This CFI funding will enable the CHU Sainte-Justine Centre IMAGINE to put in place a state-of-the-art multimodal pediatric digitization facility dedicated to research. This equipment will open the door to studying changes in the neonatal, pediatric and adolescent brain with quantitative anatomical, metabolic and functional parameters identified during key developmental periods and in relation to important environmental and congenital influences.

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

These cutting-edge technologies are particularly useful in research on pediatric populations, even more so than for adult populations, due to the rapidly changing nature of the child's brain.

An innovative research program

The research program will focus on four main objectives.

"To improve the quality of pediatric brain imaging, it is essential that technology development focuses on reducing the duration of scanning protocols to make them more tolerable for children while enhancing image quality and resolution," explains Dr. Patricia Conrod.

"We're looking to develop hardware and software solutions specifically for pediatric neuroscience," said Dr. Gregory Lodygensky, clinician-researcher in neonatology at CHU Sainte-Justine and professor at Université de Montréal.

"We aim to study developmental processes to help establish normative databases to better understand the developing brain and to explain individual differences, particularly regarding the risk of neuropsychiatric disorders," he adds.

"Upgrading our equipment will also allow us to conduct assessments of brain processes and abnormalities as individuals interact with stimuli in their environment, and also to advance the discovery of treatments by revealing their effectiveness on brain processes," adds Sarah Lippé, researcher at CHU Sainte-Justine and professor at Université de Montréal.

Lastly, research has shown that genetic mutations, cancer and cancer treatments, as well as traumatic brain injury, can lead to cognitive, language, motor, behavioural and social disorders. However, the cerebral mechanisms underlying these disorders are poorly understood and we have little data in neuroimaging in order to explore these issues.

"The systematic use of state-of-the-art neuroimaging in very high-risk children would help identify some mechanisms responsible for neurodevelopmental disorders," says Dr. Sébastien Jacquemont, clinician-researcher in genetics at CHU Sainte-Justine and professor at Université de Montréal.

Advancing knowledge for a healthy future

"In creating a highly specialized research environment focused on child brain development, our program will directly inform our understanding of normal brain development and clinical practice by facilitating predictive, preventive and therapeutic approaches to improve developmental health and ultimately prevent the onset of neuropsychiatric disorders," concludes Dr. Patricia Conrod.

About the team

This multidisciplinary team includes leaders in neuroscience and mental health, brain imaging, genomics and bioinformatics, functional genomics, epidemiology, and experimental and clinical research.

Conrod, Patricia: Department of Psychiatry, Université de Montréal (UdeM), Canada Research Chair in Mental Health and Addiction Prevention (Tier 1), Dr. Julien/Marcelle and Jean Coutu Foundation Chair in Community Social Pediatrics, CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre (CR-CHUSJ)

Lodygensky, Gregor A.: Department of Pediatrics, UdeM, Neonatologist and Director of the Canadian Neonatal Brain Platform, CR-CHUSJ

Beauchamp, Miriam: Department of Psychology, UdeM, Canada Research Chair in Paediatric Traumatic Brain Injury (Tier 2), CR-CHUSJ

Bellec, Pierre: Department of Psychology, UdeM, Scientific Director of the Functional Neuroimaging Unit, Centre de recherche de l'Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (CRIUGM)

Cohen-Adad, Julien: Department of Electrical Engineering, Polytechnique Montréal, Co-Director of the Functional Neuroimaging Unit, CRIUGM

Booij, Linda: Department of Psychology, Concordia University, CR-CHUSJ

Dehaes, Mathieu: Department of Radiology and Institute of Biomedical Engineering, UdeM, CR-CHUSJ

Dubois, Josée: Department of Radiology, UdeM, CR-CHUSJ

Gallagher, Anne: Department of Psychology, UdeM, Canada Research Chair in Clinical Child Neuropsychology and Brain Imaging (Tier 2), CR-CHUSJ

Jacquemont, Sébastien: Department of Pediatrics, UdeM, Canada Research Chair in Genomics of Developmental and Psychiatric Disorders (Tier 2), CR-CHUSJ

Lippé, Sarah: Department of Psychology, UdeM, CR-CHUSJ

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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

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