If nothing changes, the bugs will win. So we’re working on strategies the bugs can’t evolve around.

Dr. Don Sheppard

Director and Founder, MI4, MUHC

The Challenge

At this moment, rogue bacteria are raging through North American hospitals, making even routine surgeries high-risk. Meanwhile diseases like Ebola and Zika, with a foothold in parts of Africa and South America, pose a threat to all of humanity. In some cases, we have the medicines to save lives but lack the means to deliver them. In others, we’re nearly powerless as pathogens evolve faster than we can discover new medicines. This raises the spectre of a post-antibiotic world.

Already, too many are perishing. 700,000 lives lost this year due to antibiotic resistance, projected at 10 million by 2050.

A robust and balanced immune system is the best protection. Not only against these global scourges, but also against many cancers. However, the wrong type of immune response can also trigger dire reactions in the form of allergic or autoimmune disorders.

Clearly, we need to change the game. We need to accelerate research on infection and immunity… and to usher breakthroughs into practice.

The Solution

Building on a partnership between the McGill Faculty of Medicine and the McGill University Health Centre, MI4 now reaches across campuses, hospitals, institutes and labs. We’re united by an ambitious plan to solve humanity’s most urgent health challenges.

DELIVERING ANSWERS TO MEET A GLOBAL CRISIS.

Infections are the second-most common cause of death worldwide. They kill 8.7 million people each year, and are responsible for two-thirds of deaths in children under five. The astounding gains humanity has made since the discovery of antibiotics in the 1930s are now in retreat. With just one solution in sight.

MI4 brings the needed ingenuity and expertise. The cross-disciplinary solutions. And above all, the vision and drive to fight back.

A TRANSFORMATIVE PROJECT

We’re deploying the largest group of experts focused on infectious and immune-mediated diseases in the world. Our driving goal? To achieve the right balance between microbes and immunity, and save countless lives.

  • Why now? MI4’s timing couldn’t be better. Genomics, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, coupled with advances in bioengineering and immunology, have changed… everything.
  • Why here? McGill’s hospital network has one of the largest patient bases in North America, with unprecedented levels of diversity. Montreal’s cultural and social diversity provides an extraordinary opportunity. For MI4 to find solutions for all people, from all backgrounds.

This makes us uniquely situated to deliver solutions to the populations that need them most.

What else is different about MI4?

  • Momentum. We’ve attracted more than 250 researchers and partners across McGill and the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and beyond. Multiple hospitals, three research institutes and the Canadian Antimicrobial Innovation Network are already on board. So are national and international stakeholders — all united toward a common purpose.
  • Translational. We support only high-potential projects that promise to translate research findings into treatments. MI4’s 100 clinician-scientists bridge clinic and lab to speed solutions to the front lines — in hospitals, in Indigenous communities, on Canada’s streets and around the world.
  • Interdisciplinary. MI4 is obliterating old walls standing in the way of new ideas. Getting biomedical researchers to work with engineers and entrepreneurs. Sociologists with physicians and policy experts. Because the answers we need do not — cannot — emerge from one discipline alone. They can only be found in collaboration.
  • Transformative. We’re reinventing how students contribute. To tackle tomorrow’s challenges, a McGill biomedical PhD student will also train in clinical innovation, entrepreneurship and public policy. So graduates have the know-how to turn the latest research into practical solutions on the ground.
  • Strategic. Investments in MI4 will leverage large-scale funding opportunities. By donating to MI4, you’ll enable even larger investments by government, research agencies and foundations. Your dollar makes a bigger impact.
Antimicrobial Resistance
Antibiotics have been needlessly overprescribed, and for too long. Giving germs more opportunities to evolve around our defences. And when germs evolve, we need new antibiotics. But it takes decades and billions of dollars to develop new ones versus just six years for germs to build up resistance. So companies have little economic incentive to invest in new drugs. When antibiotics fail, pandemics occur. Even in developed nations, without antibiotics everything from organ transplants, heart surgery and cancer treatment to caesarian sections and appendix removal becomes high-risk. MI4 is answering the challenge of antimicrobial resistance.

  • The dragonfly’s wing. A McGill engineer has discovered why dragonfly wings, made largely from sugar, don’t succumb to bacteria. As it turns out, sub-microscopic spikes on the wing surface impale and kill germs. Inspired by nature, an MI4 team is developing a similar silicon- based surface to coat artificial joints. All the power of antibiotics, but none of the risks.
  • Prospecting the Canadian Arctic. MI4 scientists are discovering new antibiotics where few have thought to look — in Canada’s Far North. And in the process they’re recruiting McGill undergraduates to screen thousands of candidates in search of humanity’s next lead antibiotic. Antibiotics from where you’d least expect it.
  • Harnessing the microbiome. We now know that our vastly complex and exquisitely balanced microbiome — or gut bacteria — plays a far bigger role in health than once imagined. MI4 clinician-scientists are unraveling how these bacteria are implicated in dozens of diseases; how to harness them against invasive pathogens; and how to re-establish a healthy microbiome from a stored sample. So maybe we don’t need antibiotics after all. Just the power of our natural defense system.
Emerging and Re-emerging Diseases
Ancient and new foes, powered by mobility, regional conflicts and climate change, are sweeping across continents, wiping out families and economies. Infectious diseases typically gain a foothold in low-resource areas of the world. But, increasingly, geography and wealth don’t provide protection. MI4 is answering the challenge of emerging and re-emerging diseases.

  • Taming pandemics. When new outbreaks occur, every minute counts. But it often takes months to develop a treatment. MI4’s novel approach: instead of using animals to create antibodies, isolate and mobilize antibodies from survivors. With this approach, MI4 teams are working to shrink the lag time for treatments during pandemics from months to just hours.
  • Fighting Lyme disease. Some people treated for Lyme disease still wind up with permanent joint, muscle and brain damage. To find out why, MI4 is using novel genomics technologies to study the ticks carrying the disease. More specifically, they’re looking at the tick’s microbiome to better understand its migration north and target its weaknesses. This could save thousands of Canadians from suffering the disease’s devastating consequences.
  • Arresting the spread of a silent killer. More than six million people in Latin America are infected with the Chagas parasite, and it’s now spreading north. Chagas infection is often asymptomatic for decades, eventually showing up as heart failure — when it’s too late for treatment. MI4 investigators have developed effective new tests to detect the infection. We’re now rolling out these tests across the Americas to halt the epidemic.

 

Infections in Vulnerable Populations
Poverty, climate change, urbanization and mass migration are emboldening infectious diseases around the world. Most deaths occur in underserved, vulnerable populations. And, tragically, most of the victims are children. But even in developed nations, we are not immune. Indigenous people, the elderly, immigrants and the poor are also at much higher risk. MI4 is responding with large-scale multidisciplinary projects to help eradicate TB from Canada’s North, and eliminate Hepatitis C from the streets of Montreal. As part of our global vision, we’re also funding pilot studies to reduce the disproportionate suffering of poor and marginalized people due to infectious diseases throughout the world. MI4 is answering the challenge of infections in vulnerable populations.

  • Linking air pollution to TB. Each year, TB kills more than 400,000 people in India — a country that also has some of the worst air quality in the world. Using satellite imagery, AI and big data, one MI4 team is working to establish air pollution as a new risk factor for TB. This will build our knowledge in the highest-risk areas, toward eradicating the disease everywhere.
  • Helping infants breathe easier. Viral lung infections are the most common reason that infants are admitted to hospital. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is responsible for the majority of infections. MI4 researchers are developing a vaccine that can keep these infants healthy and at home with their families, where they belong.
  • Stopping dengue in its tracks. Global warming is pushing dengue — a debilitating disease that infects millions annually in the Global South — steadily north. But there is hope. Using novel genetic techniques, an MI4 team has formulated a NextGen vaccine that confers immunity. The final hurdle: validate this breakthrough and launch human trials. For the first time, millions would have protection — including Canadians. Remember: The mosquito that carries dengue was detected in Canada in 2018.
Diseases of Altered Immunity
A healthy immune system is a finely tuned machine. But if it’s too weak, it doesn’t react to invasive germs. Nor does it “see” and fight cancers. When the immune system is too aggressive, it overreacts. That’s how we get allergies or, in the worst case, autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis. This also complicates cancer chemotherapy, which suppresses the immune system and opens the door to infections — many of which are becoming antibiotic resistant. MI4 is answering the challenge of diseases of altered immunity.

  • Reducing Parkinson’s disease. We’re seeing more Parkinson’s cases as our population ages. How it develops is a mystery. But there’s growing evidence of a genetic mutation and a link with immune-mediated disorders triggered by a gut infection. An MI4 team is working to pinpoint the invasive germ. This could produce a cure for Parkinson’s and other diseases related to the same impaired immunity.
  • Infecting cancers with “smart viruses.” Non-melanoma skin cancers are by far the most common types of cancer, killing thousands annually. One MI4 team has a promising lead in deploying “smart viruses” to infect only the cancer cells, killing them from within.
  • Fine-tuning immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is revolutionizing treatment for all cancers and saving lives. But when the activated immune system attacks cancers, it also causes severe organ and joint inflammation in up to half of patients. Some don’t survive these complications. MI4 clinician-scientists are optimizing life-saving immunotherapies to prevent severe reactions and extend lives.

How you can help

Your visionary investment in MI4 will:

  • Attract even more world-class clinician-scientists and investigators to MI4.
  • Support transformative interdisciplinary projects.
  • Build discovery platforms in genomics, imaging, AI and big data.
  • Deliver answers that save lives and reduce untold suffering.
  • Make an immediate impact both at home and around the world.
  • And ultimately change the course of human history.

To contribute to this transformative project, please contact us at 514-843-1543.