Inspiring Scientists Making a Difference: Martin Pelletier

Research for therapeutic potential of metabolic processes in inflammatory and infectious diseases

“Like magic, science takes practice, but the end results are so satisfying”

Martin Pelletier, PhD

Researcher, Division of Infectious and Immune Diseases at the CHU de Québec-Laval University Research Center
Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology-Infectious Diseases, and Immunology
Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval, Canada

Since 2014 Martin has been running his own research lab working on a variety of areas such as intrinsic and extrinsic triggers for inflammation and its management, focusing on cytokine secretion profiles from leukocytes in patients with autoinflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Other research areas include characterization of effects of endocrine disruptors, cellular bioenergetics of inflammatory and cancer cells and a more patient-centric approach to studying the metabolism of immune cells involved in inflammatory and infectious responses. Martin’s research is probably ‘the only one’ in the Quebec City region encompassing innate immunity and immune metabolism focused on patient specimens.

Starting with a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to an accomplished researcher today in the field of infectious and immune diseases, Martin has always been fascinated by science. Martin’s dream of contributing to meaningful breakthroughs for the health and wellbeing of patients keeps him motivated.

A scientist reading a paper
“Need more diversity in animal models…, lack of resources for handling large data sets in post-translational research.”

According to Martin, there are great tools available to immunologists for genetics and genomics. However, there are limited resources for protein and post-translational studies involving large data sets. Also, restricted diversity in animal models limits the translation to humans and there are more models needed. Managing large data sets related to cell biology assays, specifically, analyzing and interpreting the data is an obstacle in his research. Having access to more study models and powerful, user-friendly platforms may be helpful to overcome this obstacle. Also, collaborating with bioinformaticians could better help data analyses and interpretation.

Driven by his curiosity, Martin perseveres in scientific research pursuing his love for discoveries and experimentation. He believes, as he says, “There is always a solution to an unmet medical need.” Sharing his passion for science with colleagues and students keeps him motivated. “If, as a scientist, I can help patients on a regular basis and change their life, that would make my day.”

As a human immunologist, often Martin and his team face some challenges in research such as small sample volumes. They need to screen for multiple biomarkers from the same sample. This requires customization of flow cytometry panels. Ability to perform tests at large scale and with high reproducibility are essential.

“There is always a solution to an unmet medical need.”

According to him, Thermo Fisher Scientific's Invitrogen ProcartaPlex immunoassays are ideal in case of translational research with limited human blood samples as they can quantify cytokines even in small volumes. The protocols are very well established, allowing his team to perform tests at a larger scale with high reproducibility. Also, the panels are well thought out, and the panel design tool is great for customizing the assays for research purposes. The ProcartaPlex immunoassay is particularly important for their lab. Martin is proud of the fact that using this technology, Luminex assays, in translational research he was able to help in better understanding of a psoriatic arthritis case. He investigated multiple cytokines in the blood sample received from the physician’s office and found that one specific cytokine was present in higher amounts than others. This finding helped the physician in selecting appropriate treatment for the psoriatic arthritis condition resulting in improved the quality of life. This illustrated the importance of biomarker identification in translational research to drive improvised therapeutic treatment decisions. This biomarker-based approach can potentially be extrapolated to other disease areas which can positively alter people’s lives.

Looking to the future, Martin thinks that the idea of modifying phenotype of an inflammatory cell into an anti-inflammatory cell by targeting a specific enzyme or a pathway is extremely attractive for therapeutic potential. Targeting metabolic processes for controlling immune effector function and alleviating pathological inflammation can really be central to immunology in the next quarter-century. Also, the ability to conduct single-cell metabolic assays, which is not possible right now, could be a big step forward in Martin’s research.

“Like magic, science takes practice, but the end results are so satisfying.”

He likes to spend time with both his kids, enjoying sports, venturing outside, and keeping up a family tradition of playing board games. Also, he is an avid reader of comic books and an amateur magician. Martin draws a wonderful comparison between science and magic as he says, “Like magic, science takes practice, but the end results are so satisfying.” Well, if Martin’s ‘practice’ of science continues to work out, we may see new therapies emerging based on immuno-metabolism in the future.

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