Preventing Tuberculosis Outbreaks

3 min
Simon GrandJean Lapierre

What do drones, computers and bacteriological sequencing have in common? They’re all tools used by Dr. Simon Grandjean Lapierre as part of his research into tuberculosis. In collaboration with the Institut Pasteur de Madagascar and the McGill International TB Centre, he and his team are fighting the disease on several fronts.

After training in medicine at the Université de Sherbrooke, Simon Grandjean Lapierre obtained a certificate in International Health, followed by a fellowship in Internal Medicine, Infectious Disease, and Medical Microbiology at the Université de Montréal.

He soon developed a keen interest in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, not only because it is an internationally neglected disease, but also because its study combines field work and laboratory research. This led him to complete Master’s degree in Genomics applied to mycobacteria at Aix-Marseille University. 

Discovering a Vocation

A grant from Stony Brook University to carry out postdoctoral studies on tuberculosis prompted him to fly to Madagascar. This grant enabled him to fulfil a life-long dream: to discover sub-Saharan Africa.

For a year and a half, he studied the impact of new technologies and sequencing on the control of tuberculosis.

My medical training was very oriented towards clinical and laboratory diagnosis,” he says. “It wasn’t clear at first that I wanted to make a career out of it. It was when I went to Madagascar and saw that new technologies and translational research were being used that I thought of becoming a clinician-researcher.

A Fruitful Collaboration Overseas

Simon Grandjean Lapierre then became an affiliated researcher at the Institut Pasteur in Madagascar and a clinician-researcher at the CRCHUM, before continuing his translational research work focused on tuberculosis control in Canada and abroad, particularly in Madagascar.

His work covers two main areas: the first involves next-generation sequencing of the bacterial genome to determine the infectivity of different strains of tuberculosis, and the second involves transmitting this information to the relevant health bodies so that they can contain and prevent the disease.

This progress made in epidemiological surveillance will certainly serve as a basis for controlling future pandemics. 

Democratizing Healthcare

The second area targets new health technologies, in particular the transport of medical supplies by drone to treat tuberculosis in rural areas more quickly.

In collaboration with the team at the McGill International TB Centre, he is also developing a precise triage tool based on digital recordings of coughs to detect the presence of tuberculosis. Using a database, programmers use acoustic recognition to classify sounds according to the likelihood of infection. This is known as acoustic epidemiology. 

The aim is not to replace laboratory tests, but to design a tool that comes close to the United Nations targets for screening and that can be integrated early in the diagnostic cascade to direct patients to the right resources. I hope that when I retire this technique will be available to all patients in Quebec and Canada, concludes Dr. Grandjean Lapierre.

And his work looks promising: earlier this year, he won the Early Career Investigator Award from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease

This portrait is taken from our 2022-2023 Activity Report

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