Interview – Dr. Luciano Minuzzi, MD, PHD

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It is impossible to talk about Hamilton without mentioning McMaster University, a public institution founded in 1887, with ex-alumni in more than 100 countries and four Nobel prize winning laureate professors. Similarly, we cannot mention McMaster – or Mac, as it is known – without referring to Professor Luciano Minuzzi. A Brazilian from Santiago (Rio Grande do Sul) who graduated in Porto Alegre, Luciano Minuzzi has been a member of McMaster for eight years as a professor and researcher in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences.

Wave – What was your career path, as a specialist in psychiatry, until you chose and came to Canada?
Luciano Minuzzi – I graduated in medicine and completed my residency in psychiatry at the Fundação Faculdade Federal de Ciências Médicas de Porto Alegre (Federal College Foundation of Medical Sciences of Porto Alegre) (nowadays, renamed as the Universidade Federal de Ciências da Saúde de Porto Alegre – Federal University of Health Sciences of Porto Alegre). At the end of the residency, there was an opportunity to carry out neuroimaging research in Denmark. As soon as I completed my residency, I began my Doctorate at the University of Aarhus (Denmark) where I studied chemical changes in brain transmission in animal models of psychiatric illnesses. On completing my doctorate, I did a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroimaging in Germany at the Juelich research center. When I was completing my PhD, I was invited to do a second postdoctoral fellowship at McGill University in Montreal. That’s when I first came to Canada. Since then, I have completed the PhD and have come to McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) where I was hired as a professor.

Wave – What led you to choose Canada?
Luciano Minuzzi – First, the possibility of working in world-leading medical and research centres. I was also very attracted by the possibility of reconciling medical practice with research, which in Brazil was very difficult at the time (especially in relation to research).

Wave – Even with several titles and numerous publications, including PhDs in Germany and Canada, what was the process of validating your diploma like in Canada?
Luciano Minuzzi – The fact that I have several titles and publications helped me to validate my diploma in Canada. Doctors who have an academic career can be hired with what is called an “academic license”, i.e. the University that is hiring will refer the doctor to the Council of Medicine of the province. In this case, those who have an academic license can see patients only in hospitals affiliated to the university. To have an unrestricted license, it is necessary to complete the entire diploma validation process as described by the medical council of each province.

Wave – Your study of the damage to the brains of retired CFL (Canadian Football League) players has had a lot of repercussions. Has the study resulted in any preventive action by the League?Luciano Minuzzi – Yes, the study’s repercussion was very good. In fact, the study of the consequences of repetitive brain damage caused by sport is still in its initial stages. Both the CFL and the NFL (National Football League of the USA) have already changed several aspects in terms of safety based on the many studies that have been published to date. But I still believe it’s not enough. In my opinion we need more longitudinal studies (studies that follow several players over a period of time) to determine the factors that influence the brain damage associated with head injuries. There is evidence to suggest that multiple head concussions are not necessary in order for there to be serious brain damage. Studies are also needed to assess the real benefit of safety equipment (helmets, for example) in terms of preventing brain damage.

Wave – In your areas of action, what are your next projects?
Luciano Minuzzi – I am very lucky to work in a group with several colleagues on very interesting projects. For example, we are studying biological markers (specific blood tests, or psychological tests, or brain imaging studies) that could tell us which patients would tend to respond more quickly / slowly to treatment for depression. Other studies are investigating changes in brain areas in ongoing bipolar disorder (including response to treatment). We are also engaged in studies to find biological markers that would make it possible to reduce the risk of suicide. And, of course, giving continuity to the study on brain damage caused by impact in sport.

Wave – As a teacher and researcher, what is your advice for young Brazilians who would like to study in Canada?
Luciano Minuzzi – Study hard and – in the case of an academic career – try and get as much published as you can. In Canada, in general, the student’s competence is evaluated through his CV (grades, work experience, publications). So for those who want to come, my advice is to start showing that you are a good student in Brazil. And, of course, prepare well in English or French.