MUHC Vaccine Study Centre: Saving lives from infectious diseases

 By Julia Asselstine

Immunization is our name, protection is our game they proudly declare at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Vaccine Study Centre, one of the four largest vaccine research centres in an academic setting nationwide that tests new vaccines for children and adults.

The MUHC Vaccine Centre has helped license many innovative vaccines since it first opened its doors in Pierrefonds in 1991. It is particularly proud of helping license Pentacel (one vaccine for diphtheria, pertusis, tetanus, polio and H. influenza type b), Menjugate (meningococcal group C) and Adacel (one vaccine for diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus for adults). Since its inception, it has signed on 5,020 participants, completed 20,100 visits (each visit takes 30 to 120 minutes on average) and performed approximately 10,000 blood tests.

“Our Centre and its investigators and coordinators are renowned for generating quality data, and adhering to ethical research guidelines and privacy acts,” says Deirdre McCormack, manager and coordinator of the Centre. “We also enroll large numbers of participants thanks to Susan Grant, officially the best recruiter in Canada.” The three other large academic vaccine research centres include Halifax, Quebec City and Vancouver.

To begin a study at the Vaccine Centre, either Dr. Brian Ward of MUHC adult Infectious Diseases or Dr. Caroline Quach of MUHC pediatric Infectious Diseases, both co-directors of the Centre, always perform an initial scientific evaluation. Many studies have been turned down.

If they are not ethical, they won’t be considered. For example, placebos in a study are not accepted if there is another licensed vaccine available. A study is also turned down if there are too many blood tests. If a study passes this first phase, it is submitted to Health Canada, to a MUHC Science Review Committee and to a MUHC Research Ethics Board.
“Once a study has been accepted we tell doctors about the details,” says Deirdre. “The doctor then asks parents and patients if the MUHC Vaccine Study Centre can call them about a new vaccine study. And it goes from there.”

If a parent or patient is interested, they read the emailed consent form, they then ask questions, and then make an appointment during which a nurse of the Centre goes through the study thoroughly. “There are a few very important things they have to understand,” says Deirdre. “This includes knowing what the side effects and benefits are and that confidentiality is utmost. Participants or parents also have to sign a consent form before we do anything. We make sure they know everything and that there are no misconceptions. We think this contributes to the fact that we have less than a one percent withdrawal rate.”

Deirdre and her team, which includes research assistants, nurses, and investigators (Drs. Brian Ward, Caroline Quach, Chris Karatzios, Jane McDonald, Dorothy Moore, Francisco Noya, and Earl Rubin), know they are helping to make a positive contribution to health care. “The bottom line,” says Deirdre, “is these pharmaceuticals can potentially save people from infectious diseases.”

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