Now in its second year, the McGill initiative in Computational Medicine’s matching program has announced a new batch of partnerships
By Gillian Woodford
ResearchMatch, a program of the McGill initiative in Computational Medicine (MiCM) that connects life sciences researchers with colleagues in data sciences, recently celebrated its first birthday and announced eight new projects to be funded as part of its second iteration, in conjunction with its partners, the Faculty of Medicine, the Goodman Cancer Research Centre and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.
Launched in 2019, ResearchMatch was conceived to fill an unmet need: to harness the huge datasets being generated in clinical research by enlisting the help of computational experts. “The challenge that ResearchMatch addresses is to facilitate connections between life science or clinical researchers with colleagues in data science,” explains Dr. Guillaume Bourque, Professor in the Department of Human Genetics at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and MiCM co-lead along with Dr. David Buckeridge, Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health. “The goal is to empower and enable these collaborations to be impactful and to foster data-driven innovations.”
This year’s call for projects generated 51 submissions from life sciences and clinical researchers seeking partnerships with data science colleagues. Of these, 16 matches were made and ultimately eight projects were chosen to be funded.
The matchmaking program is pretty simple, particularly now with this year’s addition of the ResearchMatch Portal, a kind of research dating site where prospective partners can browse what’s on offer. “The PIs can log on and have a look at the abstract of the project, a short project description, a description of the datasets they’d be working with, and why the collaboration would be important for their group,” explains MiCM Program Manager Arber Kacollja. “Generally, the project ideas come from the life sciences researchers. Data sciences researchers look through the list of projects and if something seems to match their particular expertise, they can put themselves forward for a collaboration.”
Many of the projects have gone on to submitting grant proposals to external funding agencies and been presented at conferences.
“The feedback we’ve received from the first iteration of the program has been very positive,”
says Dr. Bourque. “In particular, new faculty members have used ResearchMatch to find and build new connections with colleagues, not just from their own department but from across the very broad McGill community.”
Dr. Sahir Rai Bhatnagar, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics in the Departments of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health and Diagnostic Radiology, is one such faculty member. He was part of the first ResearchMatch iteration and was matched with Dr. Luda Diatchenko, Professor in the Department of Anesthesia. “Research in biostatistics involves the development of new statistical methods primarily driven by a biological question,” says Dr. Bhatnagar. “For this reason, I am constantly looking for collaborations with researchers in the health sciences who have interesting research problems.”
Dr. Diatchenko is interested in the genetic determinants of Temporomandibular disorders (TMD), a major source of chronic orofacial pain, and has access to numerous high-quality phenotyped TMD cohorts. “Through the support of the ResearchMatch program, my Biostatistics PhD student has been working closely with Dr. Diatchenko’s team to understand the subtleties in the data in order to develop the appropriate statistical methods to analyze them,” says Dr. Bhatnagar. “This has been an enriching experience for my student, who has developed the bioinformatics skills necessary to clean and combine large genetic databases so that they are ready for analysis. Furthermore, the core of their PhD thesis has been a product of our constant interactions with Dr. Diatchenko.”
Of the eight ResearchMatch projects that weren’t chosen this year, three have been offered funding through another avenue: the Summer Scholars Program. The program, which is open to graduate and undergraduate students, received 150 applications this year. Seven students were chosen to work on computational medicine projects – three from the ResearchMatch runners up, two from the ResearchMatch initial proposals who did not find a match with another PI, and two others who already had PIs lined up. “MiCM will provide the stipend for the 12 week summer duration, so that’s how we’ll help some of the projects we don’t have funding for,” explains Kacollja.
Finally, because of COVID-19 and the limited access to university facilities, a new iteration of ResearchMatch was just launched to help connect PIs and graduate students and initiate new data science collaborations over the summer. You can visit https://www.mcgill.ca/micm/ for details.
ResearchMatch Funded Projects 2020-21
|Life science research||Morag Park & Amin Emad||Computational precision medicine for aggressive breast cancer||The Goodman Cancer Research Centre/ McGill Initiative in Computational Medicine|
|Life science research||Blake Richards & Mark Brandon||Infrastructure for open machine learning research on the M3 platform data||McGill Initiative in Computational Medicine|
|Life science research||Philippe Campeau & Celia Greenwood||Predicting the functional impact of Chromodomain Helicase DNA-binding (CHD) protein mutations||McGill Initiative in Computational Medicine|
|Life science research||Luke McCaffrey & Amin Emad||AI-based single-sample protein-protein interaction network reconstruction in cancer||The Goodman Cancer Research Centre/ McGill Initiative in Computational Medicine|
|Life science research||Anmar Khadra & Alan Peterson||Heterogeneity of axon-myelin relation in gene edited mice and its functional significance||McGill Initiative in Computational Medicine|
|Population health research||Jamie Engert & Mathieu Blanchette||Prediction of Aortic Stenosis using Artificial Intelligence||The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre/McGill Initiative in Computational Medicine|
|Population health research||George Thanassoulis & Simon Gravel||Transethnic Approaches to Valve Disease||The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre/McGill Initiative in Computational Medicine|
|Clinical research||Susan Rvachew, Aparna Nadig & Mirco Ravanelli||Facilitation of assessment and intervention for speech and language disorders via automatic speech recognition||McGill Initiative in Computational Medicine|
June 18 2020