Moshe Szyf

After having been named Radio-Canada Scientist of the Year in 2010, Moshe Szyf, of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at McGill University, continues to ride the wave made by his epigenetics research.

The Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ) will be funding his research team working in collaboration with European partners as part of a call for proposals by ERA-Net NEURON, a European neurosciences and mental illness research network.

Dubbed POSEIDON, Szyf’s project brings together several teams to study prenatal, perinatal and postpartum stress and its epigenetic impacts on depression. A group in Germany will study the occurrence in humans and a team in Italy will investigate the incidence in rodents while the researchers in Québec, led by Szyf, will focus on monkeys.

In a 2009 interview for McGill’s Headway magazine, Szyf described the clear link between human social environments and their epigenetic code. “It is dynamic, and it acts through life,” he said. “And it’s not just chemicals that affect these mechanisms; it’s the social, and even political environment.”

Szyf, and his collaborators Drs. Michael Meaney and Gustavo Turecki, both from the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and Professors of Psychiatry at McGill, have been making headlines over the past few years as they explore the epigenetic phenomenon of the effects life experiences have on the genes. They were able to explain how stress levels in early childhood play a significant role in the development of mental disorders.

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