Biography of Heidi McBride
A pioneer in mitochondria research
Did you know that the human body has more than 30 trillion cells that differ in function, shape, size and mass? Studied for nearly two hundred years, cells are well known to researchers, but what about mitochondria? These tiny intracellular organelles, whose main function is to provide cells with the energy they need to survive, have long taken a back seat in cell biology.
It is only recently that science has become interested in mitochondria, thanks to Heidi McBride, a professor at McGill University and the Canada Research Chair in Cell Biology and Mitochondria. Indeed, she has played an important role through her discoveries of the behavior of mitochondria within cells and on the control of their activity.
Groundbreaking research and significant advances
Mitochondria function as combustion engines and use oxygen to burn lipids and carbohydrates. The resulting energy is used as fuel in the body. However, we have long thought that mitochondria performed their function without disturbing the general state of the cell. In recent years, mitochondrial research, including Heidi McBride’s research, has led to new discoveries that demonstrate that these highly dynamic structures merge, branch, and separate.
Mitochondrial dysregulation can cause serious degenerative diseases. The McBride laboratory therefore seeks to understand, using various complementary methods, why hundreds of mitochondria in each cell behave as an interconnected group, and what this interaction means for the cell, tissue, and body. Heidi McBride and her team manipulate the behavior of mitochondria in order to discover new therapeutic approaches to treat various degenerative brain diseases.
Heidi McBride has discovered, among other things, how mitochondria are essential in the process of triggering a coordinated response of cells, organs and tissues during infection, starvation and stressful situations. She was the first to demonstrate how mitochondria respond to viral and bacterial infections by launching a cascade of signals that work together to eliminate foreign invaders and trigger immune memory for a future attack. She also discovered how aberrant errors in this mitochondrial response to infection lead to an autoimmune response leading to Parkinson’s disease. These discoveries are monumental and unexpected with respect to degenerative brain diseases, including Parkinson’s, and have opened new avenues of treatment for these previously untreatable diseases.
In addition, Heidi McBride discovered how key decisions are made on the surface of mitochondria in cancer cells, which will improve the effectiveness of chemotherapeutic drugs currently used to treat cancer patients. These amazing discoveries have been published in the most prestigious scientific journals and are now integrated into the common therapeutic knowledge base related to Parkinson’s disease and cancer.
A passionate scientist of cell biology
Science and biology have not always been present in Heidi’s life. Growing up on a farm in Ontario, she discovered a passion for science, mystery and problem solving through the character of Quincy, a medical examiner in an American television series.
In 1986, Heidi McBride left her life on the farm to pursue her studies in biochemistry at McGill University, where she experienced some difficult years of study and questioned her passion for science. During a trip to India, however, she found her way back to science and decided to settle in Germany to carry out her postdoctoral research on the vesicular transport of cells. It is at this moment that her discoveries on mitochondria are published for the first time. The novelty, quality and importance of her work are highlighted by impressive research funding from national and international granting agencies, and her work appears in numerous leading scientific journals.
Since then, Heidi McBride has taught at the University of Ottawa and McGill University, where she has conducted her most innovative research and continues to guide, inspire and engage the next generation of scientists. She is now working at the Neuro, the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, where she continues to research and revolutionize the world of cell biology. In addition, she gives international conferences offering clinicians a new knowledge base that they can rely on to find new therapies.
A scientific role model for girls around the world
Throughout time, many women scientists have distinguished themselves by their scientific discoveries and have changed the course of history, notably Marie Curie. This exceptional physicist has greatly influenced Heidi McBride’s career by inspiring her to shine in this traditionally male world. Having had to deal with sceptical people calling her “crazy”, not believing in her, denigrating or rejecting her work, this researcher has developed a tough shell which allows her to evolve and advance in her life and career. Heidi leaves no room for doubt, criticism, judgment, or intellectual laziness. Creative, fearless, curious and resilient, Heidi McBride participates in the advancement of science through her ground-breaking research and hopes that her discoveries will one day help save lives.