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Shaping the future: researcher profiles

Infectious diseases
Dr. Michel G. Bergeron: building on Louis Pasteur’s discoveries
Dr. Michel G. Bergeron, founding director of Laval University’s Infectious Disease Research Centre (CRI) in Quebec City, attracted the attention of the world’s leading scientists when he unveiled a revolutionary new procedure that rapidly diagnoses infectious diseases such as Group B streptococcus (GBS) and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
  • 2000: Dr. Michel G. Bergeron develops a series of revolutionary diagnostic tests
  • 2003: Scientific Award, Canadian Francophone Doctors Association (AMLFC)
  • 2005: Wilder Penfield Award for overall career achievement and exceptional contributions to scientific development in Quebec
  • 2007: Genome Quebec Award, Biotechnology of Tomorrow, Genesis Awards Gala, in recognition of his achievements in CD microfluid technology
  • 2008: Transfer Award, Innovation Research Competition, Health Technology Industry Association (AITS)

Infectious disease research received a huge boost when Dr. Michel Bergeron returned to Quebec City in 1974. This acclaimed scientist’s initial goal was to explore his chosen field in his hometown, a place he appreciated not only for its beauty, but also for its dynamic institutions, including Laval University.

“In the beginning, it was just the three of us in a lab. Over the years, CRI has become one of the top-five research centres in the world, with a staff of 250,” says Dr. Bergeron, who has sought to build on Louis Pasteur’s legendary discoveries. Indeed, as the largest facility of its kind in Canada, CRI has developed a global reputation for excellence.

In 2000, Dr. Bergeron and his team unveiled a procedure that improves on Pasteur’s microbial detection methodology, developed 125 years ago. In concrete terms, the procedure consists of a series of diagnostic tests that can identify microbial DNA in less than an hour, compared to 48 hours using microbiological culture-based methods. “This represents a major scientific breakthrough since doctors can rarely afford to wait that long before deciding on a course of treatment,“ says Dr. Bergeron.

Quebec City’s intellectual heritage

Surprisingly, Dr. Bergeron initially hoped to become a professional trumpet player. But when one of his teachers convinced him that science was his true calling, he decided to study medicine at Laval University; he later completed his internal medicine residency in Montreal.

After developing a passionate interest in infectious diseases, Dr. Bergeron moved to Boston to pursue his studies at the New England Medical Center, an affiliate of Tufts University. “I had the opportunity to work with Salvador E. Luria, the 1969 Nobel Prize laureate in medicine, and Louis Weinstein, who in those days was the leading infectious disease specialist.” Hoping to contribute to Quebec City’s intellectual heritage, he decided to return home after completing his training.

Dr. Bergeron pursued research activities for a number of years before turning his attention to microbial genetics and DNA identification techniques. In 1995, he founded Infectio Diagnostic Inc., enabling him to raise the funds he needed to carry out tests through the clinical trial phase and to obtain regulatory approvals from Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company merged with GeneOhm Sciences in 2004 and has been part of BD Group since 2006.

Saving lives

Using the revolutionary diagnostic tests they developed, Dr. Bergeron and his partners identified Group B streptococcus (GBS) in record time; this bacterium is often present in the genital tract of pregnant women and may be transmitted to the baby during labour. “This means we can prevent a wide range of serious complications while saving the lives of thousands of newborns around the world,” notes Dr. Bergeron. Unnecessary prescription of antibiotics is also avoided.

The GBS procedure was followed by a second test designed to detect methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which plagues hospitals and is recognized as a major risk factor for mortality worldwide. “With rapid diagnosis, infections can be effectively brought under control because contagion is prevented,” explains Dr. Bergeron, who is pleased that the test is now available on the international market.

Developing solutions

Via GenePOC, Dr. Bergeron and his Quebec City-based team are currently putting the finishing touches on a CD-based rapid-diagnosis test that can be performed in doctors’ offices anywhere in the world. It is also expected to significantly reduce emergency room waiting times.

Based on micro-fluid technology, this “lab-on-a-chip” is also used to detect microbial DNA. “The CD centrifuges the samples and performs the same functions currently performed by a lab technician,” explains Dr. Bergeron, adding that the device will further revolutionize the fields of infectious diseases and microbiology.

Proving that progress is an unstoppable force, Dr. Bergeron’s team is also working on a microbicidal gel, known as the Invisible Condom (Gealth Inc.), which has enormous commercial potential.

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