Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

Dr. Marie-Claude Rousseau

Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, Université du Québec

Dr. Rousseau obtained a bachelor's degree (B.Sc.) in biochemistry from Université du Québec à Montréal in 1991. Her graduate studies were conducted at McGill University, where she earned an M.Sc. (1998) and Ph.D. (2003) in Epidemiology & Biostatistics. With a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Cancer Institute of Canada, Dr. Rousseau joined Dr. Jack Siemiatycki 's research chair in Environmental Epidemiology and Population Health at the Department of social and preventive medicine, Université de Montréal (2003-2004). In 2005, she joined INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier as an Assistant Professor, and later became Associate (2011) and Full Professor (2016). Her research activities consist of conducting population health studies to uncover the etiology of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. She is particularly interested in factors that can have an impact on the immune response, such as vaccines and infections, and in lifestyle and environmental exposures. The identification of risk or preventive factors for inflammatory and autoimmune diseases is essential for establishing effective prevention programs. Over the last 13 years, her research has been funded by a variety of organizations including the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé (FRQS), the Canadian Cancer Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Quebec Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sports.

Learn more about Dr. Rousseau

How did you become interested in MS research? What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?

Twenty-five years ago, I met with an epidemiologist because I was curious to learn about his work. On this defining moment, I found my professional passion: working in population health research to uncover the causes and preventive factors of debilitating or life-threatening chronic diseases. Over the last 15 years, I have been particularly interested in the role played by immune stimulation in early life in the development of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. This sparked my interest in MS research since the immune response appears to be central to both disease development and progression.

What do you enjoy most about doing research and what are some of the challenges you face?

For my research, I use epidemiological methods. My epidemiology lab is what we call a "dry lab". It is made up of individual computers and computer servers able to handle a huge amount of data. Our study includes over 400,000 persons, and we are using over a dozen provincial administrative health and sociodemographic databases. What I enjoy the most is interacting with my research team, solving the problems we encounter in data analysis, and discussing the results that we obtain at each step. It is exciting to see what these results are and interpret what they mean. I also really enjoy collaborating with immunologists and clinicians, because none of us has the full picture of the disease and each one of us can help the others better understand the complex disease that is multiple sclerosis.

Describe the importance and level of collaboration in your research?

Collaboration is extremely important in my research. I collaborate with other epidemiologists who have complementary expertise to mine and with biostatisticians. I also collaborate with clinicians and immunologists. In my experience, we can achieve much faster progress by working together than by doing each our own separate research. We can each take our own angle to study, for example, the causes of multiple sclerosis, but using results generated by other disciplines to inform our research, our hypotheses, and our conclusions allow us to progress more efficiently. Our team involves long-time and new collaborators. We are very excited to join forces for the benefit of MS research.

How important is the support from the MS Society in enabling you to conduct research?

The support from the MS Society is crucial in the realization of this research project. It allows us to study new and promising aspects of MS etiology. The work done by the MS Society, donors, and volunteers enables researchers to conduct studies that will benefit people with MS. Without funding from the MS Society of Canada, this research would not have been possible.

If you could ask any question(s) to a person living with MS that would help you design your study, what would it be?

In my research, I often use information stored in governmental administrative databases. Some of the most important ones are the databases related to the administration of our public health system (physician billing for consultations and hospitalizations). Even though the personal identifying information is removed from these datasets, it can be a very long and difficult process to obtain them for research. It is the case even when a project was evaluated by other researchers and received some funding from organizations such as the MS Society. The process and delays also vary a lot depending on the research setting (province or territory).

What are your thoughts about researchers having access to data from the public health system or other governmental organizations to study questions related to population health? Do you have suggestions or recommendations, either for the government or for researchers?

Dr. Rousseau’s MS Society supported project:

Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccination and multiple sclerosis: A population-based study in Quebec