Affiliation(s): University of Montreal
Dr. Alexandre Prat, CHUM
Dr. Prat is a staff neurologist at the CHUM (Montréal) and is a Professor of Neurosciences at Université de Montréal. Dr. Prat held the Donald Paty Research Chair of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and was a senior Scholar of the FRQ-S (2012-2016). He now holds the Senior Canada Research Chair in Multiple Sclerosis and was inducted at the College of researcher of the Royal Society of Canada in 2015. From 2015 until 2018, he was Deputy Director for Development at the CHUM Research Center, a research institution with over 120 investigators and 2000 employees. Since June 2021, he serves as the Chairman of the Department of neuroscience at UdeM.
The current research interests of the Prat lab include the immunological roles of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), the mechanisms of monocytes and lymphocyte migration across the BBB, and the physiological regulation of the BBB functions by glial cells. The underlying hypothesis of Dr. Prat’s work is that deciphering the mechanisms by which the BBB controls the passage of cells and molecules to the central nervous system (CNS) should lead to the understanding of diseases such as MS and brain tumors, as well as to the discovery of novel routes for delivery of drugs and chemotherapies into the CNS. The research activities of the Prat lab include a special emphasis towards the biology of human and mouse TH1 and TH17 lymphocytes, as well as the important role of B lymphocytes in MS. The lab routinely performs scRNASeq, 30 color flow cytometry analysis of human or mouse CNS and peripheral blood cells, multiphoton dynamic imaging of CNS vessels, confocal microscopy of human MS brain samples, active adoptive transfer and spontaneous/transgenic EAE, as well as primary cell culture of human or mouse CNS endothelial and glial cells.
How did you become interested in MS research? What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?
My interest in neurology began in high school when a great biology teacher taught us about the nervous system. At the age of 15 or 16, I recall being in awe in front of this topic and its revolutionary concepts that seemed almost like science fiction back then. In medical school, it was my mentor, the renowned Dr. Pierre Duquette, who introduced me to the field of MS and encouraged me to pursue research in the field of neuroinflammation. Following his advice, I joined the team of Dr. Jack Antel, a prominent specialist in the field, and completed a PhD under his supervision at the Montreal Neurological Institute focused on studying the blood-brain barrier in the context of MS.
It is undeniable that my patients and my desire to improve their lives are my greatest sources of inspiration to continue advancing MS research.
What do you enjoy most about doing research and what are some of the challenges you face?
In my lab, a lot of my research revolves around identifying and validating novel therapeutic targets for treating MS. An incredible aspect of this type of research is when some of these targets develop into therapies that enter clinical trial to be tested for MS. This is very exciting for us because it shows that our hard work has the potential of directly improving the life of MS patients. I also greatly enjoy mentoring students, helping them develop their projects and eventually witnessing their careers unfold. Not only does this allow the survival and growth of my research field, but it also exponentially advances it. This is like building a big family of students and specialists who will ensure the continuation of our research battle against MS until we eventually beat it.
Describe the importance and level of collaboration in your research?
Collaborations in research are key for the progress of the field. Research in MS has now become multifaceted with sub-specializations focused on the different cellular compartments involved in MS, and even on the different experimental techniques used to study MS. Collaborations allows us to share ideas, address the same research objective from multiple directions and consequently help each other’s projects to progress better and faster.
In my lab, I consistently encourage my trainees to collaborate first with each other and with the scientists from the many excellent labs at the CRCHUM. We are also proud to be involved in several large scale local, national and international collaborations, all aimed at allowing us to better understand the pathophysiology of MS and therefore establish novel therapeutic approaches to combat it.
How important is the support from the MS Society in enabling you to conduct research?
The MS Society has been crucial for my research over the years. With its operational grants, it has allowed my team and our collaborators to pursue innovative research projects that otherwise would have been impossible. By funding my trainees, it gives them pride and a head start in MS research. There are also, of course, the extremely important initiatives lead by the MS Society of Canada on a yearly basis that ensures the fostering of collaborations and knowledge exchange between scientists from all over the world, and, most importantly, which brings us closer to MS patients and allows us to better understand their suffering and therefore better orient our research to address their pressing issues.
If you could ask one question to a person living with MS that would help you design your study, what would it be?
That’s what I do on a daily basis when I see patients….
We thank you for your participation in this initiative which will allow our donors, stakeholders, and individuals impacted by MS, to learn more about the talented researchers who help bring us closer to finding a cure to this disease.
What is your role in the Canadian MS Progression Cohort study?
Team leader for the Biology study, coordinating scientific biological projects in the 5 main Canadian Institutions.
Site clinical coordinator for Montreal.
Why is important that patients will take part in the Canadian MS Progression Cohort study?
To help us understand what leads to progressive disease in MS. We can only do that by evaluating all aspects of MS disease, from environmental factor, demography, biology, radiology, and response to therapy.
What potential outcomes do you expect to arise from the Canadian MS Progression Cohort initiative from the work that you will be contributing toward to the cohort?
Identify risk factors that can predict progression