Réseau de recherche en santé de la vision Logo fonds de la recherche du Québec - santé Logo

2020-2021 Vision Network Publication Award Laureates

August 1st 2020

Reza Abbas Farishta_PHOTO

PhD student au doctorat, École d’optométrie, Université de Montréal
Supervisor : Dr Christian Casanova

Publication: Abbas Farishta R, Boire D, Casanova C. Hierarchical Organization of Corticothalamic Projections to the Pulvinar. Cerebral Cortex Communications, July 7 2020.

After graduating with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in optometry from the University of Paris-Sud-XI, I continued my academic career at University de Montréal by pursuing a clinical master’s degree in vision science (2011). During my master’s, I got a taste of research by studying the role played by the cannabinoid system on visual responses of the primary visual cortex (Abbas Farishta et al, IOVS 2015). Following this positive experience, I then decided to continue research, again at Dr. Casanova’s laboratory, embarking on an O.D / PhD program. I obtained my doctorate in optometry in 2017 and I am currently preparing for my PhD defense (2020). My doctoral studies investigate the role of transthalamic pathways in the visual system. By revealing for the first time that transthalamic pathways, like their cortico-cortical counterparts, are organized in a hierarchical manner, my doctoral work has enabled a better  understanding of the thalamus and its role in the processing of visual information. My doctoral work has been regularly praised by my peers. I was the recipient of the Gresset-Simonet prize in 2018, as well as the prestigious Ezell Fellowship of the American Academy of Optometry for the year 2019/2020. My clinical interests gravitate towards a better understanding of optometric disorders resulting from a cerebral dysfunction such as cortical amblyopia as well as TBI related visual symptoms. Next step: a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Ophthalmology at McGill University under the supervision of Dr. Farivar on binocular vision, neuro-optometry and medical imaging.


Rodriguez, Lea_photo

Étudiante au doctorat, Université Laval
Supervisor : Dr Vincent Pernet

Publication: Rodriguez L, Joly S, Zine-Eddine F, Baya Mdzomba J, Pernet V. Tau modulates visual plasticity in adult and old mice. Neurology of aging, July 25 2020.

During her Masters in Neuroscience at the University of Aix-Marseille, Léa Rodriguez worked on the molecular mechanisms associated with neurodegenerative pathologies such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases in the laboratories of Dr Debanne and Fantini. The results she obtained enabled her to be associated as a co-author in publications in the journals, Scientific Report, and PNAS. Interested by the mechanisms of degeneration and plasticity in the central nervous system, she started her doctorate in the laboratory of Dr Pernet. One of her research objectives was the study and understanding of the mechanisms of degeneration and plasticity in ganglion cells of the retina. Her current research focuses on the influence of the Tau protein on the physiology and visual mechanisms of neuroplasticity in adult mice and during aging. The results she obtained allowed her to publish her work in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience (2018), International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2020) and Neurobiology of Aging (2020) as lead author. Over the past two years, she has received the Fondation du CHUL de Québec scholarship and the Thematic Center for Research in Neurosciences scholarship, the Lemaire Foundation scholarship and the FRQS doctoral scholarship. In parallel with her project, she participates in other laboratory projects, allowing her to develop new expertise and to be co-author of several studies published in Glia (2018) or Cell Death and Disease (2018/2020

 February 1st 2021

Deborah Villafranca

Deborah Villafranca-Baughman  
PhD student, Université de Montréal
Supervisor : Dre Adriana Di Polo

Publication: Alarcon-Martinez, L.*, Villafranca-Baughman, D.*, Quintero, H. Kacerovsky, B., Dotigny, F., Murai, K. K., Prat, A., Drapeau, P., Di Polo, A. Interpericyte tunnelling nanotubes regulate neurovascular coupling. Nature, August 2020. 

*These authors contributed equally

I obtained my BSc degree from Universitat de Barcelona, starting my molecular biology training. Under Dr. Ramón Rama’s supervision, I studied oxidative and apoptotic damage indicators in the brain of rats subjected to severe normobaric hypoxia. Afterwards, in Dr. Schipper Hyman’s laboratory at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research (McGill University), I completed my undergraduate thesis by examining the role of heme oxygenase-1 in aging and Parkinsonian neural tissue of GFAP.HMOX1 transgenic mouse model. Here, I also participated in an immunohistochemical study investigating the expression of Alzheimer’s-related proteins in the human salivary gland and helped process human blood samples.

Under Prof. Di Polo’s supervision, I obtained my MSc degree (UdeM) and started the Neuroscience Ph.D. program. My Ph.D. is focused on the mechanisms behind pericyte dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases. During my Ph.D. training, I have gained significant expertise in microsurgical skills in rodents, which resulted in a recent publication showing that retinal ischemia led to the constriction of small vessels by pericytes – cells located around vessels (Acta Neuropathol. Commun., 2019, IF: 5.93). Moreover, I recently established a novel two-photon laser scanning microscopy setup that yields high-resolution images of the retina in living animals. Therefore, we have demonstrated the existence of nanotube-like structures between pericytes that contribute to neurovascular responses (Nature 2020, IF: 43).

Consequently, I believe that my Ph.D. thesis may provide important insights into the molecular basis of pericyte contractility and microvascular regulation for different neurodegenerative diseases with a vascular component as glaucoma o Alzheimer’s disease.

*** Relève-étoile Jacques-Genest Award – FRQS – May 2021


Awards funded by the Fondation Antoine-Turmel


Rabah DABOUZ  
PhD student, Mc Gill University
Supervisor : Dr Sylvain Chemtob

Publication: Dabouz R, Cheng CWH, Abram P, Omri S, Cagnone G, Sawmy KV, Joyal JS, Desjarlais M, Olson D, Weil AG, Lubell W, Rivera JC, Chemtob S. An allosteric interleukin-1 receptor modulator mitigates inflammation and photoreceptor toxicity in a model of retinal degeneration. Journal of Neuroinflammation, November 27 2020.

I accomplished a Master’s degree in Biochemistry from Universite de Montreal where I worked on the signalling pathways of G protein-coupled receptors to better understand their implication in heart failure. After obtaining my master’s degree, I joined a doctoral program in Pharmacology and Therapeutics at McGill University under the supervision of Dr. Sylvain Chemtob. My research aims to explore the different inflammatory mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration. This disease is a major cause of blindness worldwide and is characterized by the degeneration of photoreceptors. Our goal is to identify and modulate therapeutic targets in order to reduce the inflammatory response, protect photoreceptors, and hence prevent disease progression. We have demonstrated that allosteric modulation of the interleukin-1 receptor is a promising therapeutic avenue to suppress the inflammatory response and preserve the integrity of photoreceptors in degenerative eye diseases. It is hoped that our work will serve as a basis for guiding the development of future therapeutic strategies. My work is funded by the Fonds de Recherche du Quebec-Sante.


popovic_crop copy

Natalija POPOVIC  
PhD student, Université de Montréal
Supervisor: Dr Bruno Larrivée

Publication: Popovic N, Hooker E, Barabino A, Flamier A, Provost F, Buscarlet M, Bernier G, Larrivée B. COCO/DAND5 inhibits developmental and pathological ocular angiogenesis. EMBO Molecular Medicine, 15 février 2021.

During my MSc study in Molecular Cell Biology at University of Milan, I came to Montreal as a visiting research trainee in Dr. Constantin Polychronakos’ laboratory, at McGill University. In 2014, I defended my dissertation entitled “A mouse model for the PTPN22 human type 1 diabetes susceptibility locus”. I contributed to the project of a PhD student published in 2017, in Journal of Autoimmunity, currently Professor at Qingdao University, where I was invited at a recruiting conference in 2019. I worked as research assistant in Prof. Mike Sapieha’s laboratory, at CRHMR, helping two post-doctoral fellows’ projects, published in 2016 in Science Translational Medicine, and in 2018 in Science Immunology. I was awarded the PhD Student Performance Award by FRQS Réseau de recherche en santé de la vision and the “Bourse Suzanne Véronneau-Troutman & FROUM” from the Department of Ophthalmology. My PhD project ” Characterization of a novel anti- angiogenic protein for the treatment of neovascular ocular diseases”, supervised by Dr. Bruno Larrivee, received a CIHR grant. From 2018 for three consecutive years, I was awarded with “Bourse excellence du programme de Sciences biomédicales“. In 2018, I was awarded the best poster at the 30th “Journée de la recherche en Ophtalmologie de UdeM“. I contributed with the flow cytometry experiments coauthoring two publication in our lab in Arter. Thromb Vasc Biol and Oncogene. With an Optometrist PhD student and funding from Fonds Besner-Valois, I also created “Teaching OCT and ERG techniques for vision research” at CRHMR.