Dr. Catherine Larochelle

Clinical assistant professor

photo of Dr. Catherine Larochelle

Dr. Larochelle is a junior clinician-scientist at the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM). She obtained a MD degree in 2004 and MSc degree in 2005 from Université Laval. She completed her Neurology residency training at Université de Montréal in 2009, before pursuing a PhD degree from 2009-2014 in the laboratory of Dr Alexandre Prat, working on adhesion molecules implicated in the recruitment of pathogenic T cells to the central nervous system in MS and its animal model. She then conducted a post-doctoral fellowship at the Universitätmedizin Mainz, Germany, under the supervision of Dr Frauke Zipp, focusing on interactions between immune cells and central neuroglial cells in vitro and in vivo. Since 2013, Dr. Larochelle has been staff neurologist at the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), and since 2016 a clinical assistant professor and a researcher at the CHUM research center (CRCHUM), in the Neurosciences department.

As a neurologist, she cares for people affected by MS. As a scientist, her research program focuses on the contribution of the peripheral immune system to neuroglial dysfunction in neuroinflammatory disorders such as MS. The ultimate goal of her research program is to identify immune mechanisms contributing to chronic CNS neuroglial dysfunction in order to open new therapeutic avenues to alleviate immune-mediated neuroglial injury.

Learn more about Dr. Larochelle

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

I became interested in MS research when I attended the MS clinic of the CRCHUM as a neurology resident. The atmosphere was effervescent: clinical and fundamental projects were realized through an amazing teamwork between nurses, neurologists, scientists and people affected by MS and their relatives, all driven to the improvement of understanding and care in MS. The same year I attended the first endMS conference, where I discovered the incredible progresses made in recent years on both clinical and scientific aspects of the disease, and then decided to commit to MS research, as I wanted to contribute to the global effort to understand and stop this disease.

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

Being part of a global effort to understand and tackle a neurological disease affecting so many Canadians is one of the thing I enjoy the most about MS research. Discovering something new is a really good feeling, as is confirming our observations in different models or setups and starting to see how it could help to move towards an answer to some of the questions in MS. Seeing with your own eyes oligodendrocytes, or immune cells, or DNA is always fascinating. Exchanging with colleagues and top scientists at conferences is extremely rewarding, as is learning and understanding something new, and as is teaching motivated students. The biggest challenge is usually to secure funding, and to try to stay up to date in multiple and increasingly complex areas (clinical neurology, neurosciences, immunology, education, etc.).

Describe the importance and level of collaboration in your research?

Collaboration is crucial to perform relevant research in MS. My research program is dependent on collaborations and teamwork implicating people affected by MS as well as non-MS controls willing to participate and provide biological samples and clinical information, nurses and neurosurgeons recruiting subjects and obtaining samples and information, lab assistants and students working together to get the most out of each experiment, platform leaders sharing knowledge to perform proper analysis with cutting edge technology, research teams from different backgrounds providing insight to help establish and optimize techniques and analysis, and other clinicians and researchers acting as mentors to put this all together and guide me as a junior clinician scientist. I am very fortunate to collaborate with world renowned MS neurologists and neuroimmunologists at the CRCHUM, at McGill and at Universitätmedizin Mainz (Germany), and their input is truly invaluable to my research program.

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

The MS Society has supported me throughout my PhD studies, which I started after completing my neurology residency. Their financial support allowed me to focus on learning to become a clinician-researcher in MS. Moreover, they have provided me with multiple opportunities to network with other people interested in MS research and with world renowned clinicians and scientists, who were (and are still) always incredibly generous of their time. The MS Society has now given me funding to achieve my project 'Molecular mechanisms underlying T cell/oligodendrocyte interactions as target for neuroprotective strategies in MS'. As a junior principal investigator, funding is difficult to obtain, however it is necessary to generate data and publications that will lead to further financial support. The grant from the MS Society at this early stage of my career is therefore of tremendous importance. It enables me to develop my independent research program in MS, to foster collaborations, and makes it possible for my team to pursue the MS project we are passionate about; all of this will put us in a position to grow and acquire expertise and stability as an MS research group.