Scientific breakthroughs

The dynamism of Québec researchers in the health sector is indisputable. Through the years, they have made important discoveries that have yielded tangible positive impacts on the health of Québecers and people around the world.

The 1930s

Québec researchers have been pioneers since as early as the 1930s. Wilder Penfield founded the Montreal Neurological Institute in 1934 and developed a surgical method to treat epilepsy. In 1936, Hans Selye, a researcher at Université de Montréal, described stress, or general adaptation syndrome, for the very first time. In 1938, Armand Frappier, a pioneer in the field of vaccines, founded the first French-Canadian medical research centre, the Institut de microbiologie et d'hygiène de Montréal, which, in 1975, would become the Institut Armand-Frappier. At the same time, Félix d'Herelle veered off the beaten track and discovered bacteriophages. He is believed by many to be the founder of modern molecular biology and made a world-class contribution to the field.


Later, in the 1950s, at the Montreal Neurological Institute, Brenda Milner demonstrated the important role of the hippocampus (a brain structure located in the temporal lobe) in memorizing new events and past experiences. In 1954, Paul David founded the Montréal Heart Institute – a leading cardiology centre where, in 1968, doctors performed Canada's first heart transplant. Jacques Genest, the Québec researcher who made the greatest contributions to the advancement of biomedical research in the past 40 years, founded the Club de recherches cliniques du Québec in 1959, the Conseil de recherches médicales in 1964 (which, in 1981, would become the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec) and the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) in 1967.

In 1961, at Université de Montréal, André Barbeau linked deficiencies of dopamine (a substance found in the brain) to Parkinson's disease. The application of his finding led to the development of the first medication derived from DOPA, a natural dopamine precursor. Barbeau also discovered one of the factors that cause ataxia (biochemical glutamine acid deficiency) and characterized some twenty types of the disease. In 1972 at the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal Hospital, André Roch Lecours founded a research group that would become a beacon for interdisciplinary research into language and the brain.

Certain treatments and processes to enhance human health and which are still in use today stem from discoveries made in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. For example, in 1969, Québec began adding vitamin D to milk based on the research findings of Dr. Charles Scriver at McGill University, and the incidence of rickets plummeted from 1 case in 200 newborns to 1 in 20,000. At Université Laval in 1972, Dr. Jean-H. Dussault developed a screening test for congenital hypothyroidism that is still used around the world. In fact, in 2000, it was estimated that 150 million newborns had undergone the test. In 1989, Bernard Belleau developed 3TC (or lamivudine) – an anti-HIV treatment that is now used in combination with other drugs.

The past 30 years

The past 30 years have also seen many significant breakthroughs: the isolation of mutations causing familial hypercholesterolemia in French-Canadians, the development of a theory to better understand pain mechanisms, the discovery of breast cancer genes, a better understanding of Alzheimer's disease, the detection of neural regeneration in the central nervous system, the development of a test for the early diagnosis of scoliosis and rapid tests to diagnose devastating bacterial infections, and many more.

Since its creation in 1964, the FRQS has been part of these discoveries through the support it provides to the research centres, groups and networks to which most health researchers belong, the annual attribution of grants and scholarships to hundreds of research scholars and graduate students, and the funding it provides for hundreds of research projects.