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Welcome to the Thombs Research Team Website!

Dr. Brett Thombs is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, a Senior Investigator at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research at the Jewish General Hospital, Chair of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care and Director of the Scleroderma Patient-centered Intervention Network (SPIN) and Director of the DEPRESsion Screening Data (DEPRESSD) Project.

Members of the Thombs Research Team work in three projects or areas: (1) SPIN, (2) the DEPRESSD Project, and (3) meta research and policy, which includes the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (CTFPHC), the development of an extension of the CONsolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) statement for trials conducted in cohorts and other routinely collected data, and other meta-research projects.

Each project group includes research coordinators, research assistants, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students who collaboratively work on various aspects of the projects. Check out the individual project sections to learn more about each project team and our current team members.

Latest News...

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Congratulations to the SPIN team on receiving Arthritis Society of Canada Innovation Grant!
| 2022/11/28

The SPIN Team was awarded a $100,000 Arthritis Society of Canada Innovation Grant for its project titled “A Scleroderma Patient-centered Intervention Network patient-researcher partnership to understand pain sources, patterns, and barriers to effective management in systemic sclerosis”. Thanks to team member Elsa-Lynn Nassar for her work on the proposal. The project will involve a patient-researcher partnership to jointly develop a pain assessment tool for scleroderma and administer the final version of the tool to the SPIN cohort. This will provide improved techniques for pain assessment in scleroderma and improved understanding of the multi-faceted nature of scleroderma pain, which is critical for improving management. Congrats to the SPIN Team!

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Welcome Palak to the team!
| 2022/11/04

Palak Desai recently joined the team as a part-time research assistant. She’s pursuing a M.Sc. in Public Health at McGill University. Palak’s research interests involve addressing challenges related to social aspects of health. Click here to read more about Palak!

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SPIN-SSLED Trial Results Published in Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases!
| 2022/10/31

The SPIN Scleroderma Support group Leader Education (SPIN-SSLED) Program Trial results were published in Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. In the trial, 148 existing or candidate peer support group leaders were randomised to the 13-week videoconference-based program or to waitlist, and primary outcome data were provided by 146 (99%) participants. Satisfaction with the program was extremely high (30.3 out of possible 32 points), and participants attended an average of 11.4 out of 13 sessions. The program improved support group leader self-efficacy substantially, as well as leader volunteer satisfaction. The SPIN-SSLED Program continues to be offered by SPIN in collaboration with our patient organization partners. Link

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The COVID-19 LSR team is looking for an undergraduate research volunteer!
| 2022/10/12

Our team is currently seeking an undergraduate research volunteer to work on the COVID-19 LSR mental health project. Please read the PDF for more details!


The tasks of the research volunteer will include:

• Reviewing scientific publications and screening for eligible studies.

• Extracting published results based on pre-developed coding manuals.


The ideal candidate will meet the following qualifications:

• Enrolled in an undergraduate program in psychology or health sciences.

• Relevant research experience in health sciences is an asset.

• Good interpersonal skills and a strong capacity for teamwork.

• Excellent organizational and communication skills.


To apply: Interested candidates should submit (1) a cover letter, (2) a curriculum vitae, (3) an unofficial transcript to Suiqiong Fan (, the COVID-19 Living Systematic Review Project Coordinator.


The position will remain open until filled.

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Welcome new team members!
| 2022/09/20

Gabrielle and Bianca joined Thombs research team in September 2020. Gabrielle will finish her MSc thesis at McGill soon and start with the DEPRESSD team as a full-time biostatistician. She will be working with Dr. Benedetti on statistical challenges in IPDMA and doing applied statistical work. Bianca is an undergraduate student in psychology at McGill. She will be doing a full-year thesis project related to trajectories of pain in scleroderma with the SPIN Team and involved with the team on general SPIN activities. Read more about Gabrielle and Bianca.


Our DEPRESSD and COVID-19 LSR projects are hiring! APPLY NOW!
| 2022/09/15

We have several open positions for the DEPRESSD and COVID-19 LSR projects. Please see PDF for more details.


  • Full-time Analytical Research Coordinator [PDF]

  • Full-time Biostatistics PhD student [PDF]

  • Full-time Epidemiology PhD student [PDF]

  • Full-time Postdoctoral Fellow [PDF]

  • Part-time Research Assistant [PDF]


The positions will remain open until filled.


Congratulations to Kexin on being accepted by John Hopkin University!| 2022/09/12

Kexin, our research assistant in the DEPRESSD team, recently received an offer from the Master of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public health. She will be starting her semester in January 2023. Congratulations, Kexin!


Congratulations to Elsa on her publication in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research!| 2022/09/07

A meta-research review led by team member Elsa-Lynn Nassar and co-authored by other team members, including Brooke Levis, Marieke Neyer, and Danielle Rice, was recently published in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research. The team assessed the completeness and transparency of reporting of recently published depression screening accuracy studies. A total of 106 studies were included and assessed for consistency with the Standards for Reporting of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies (STARD) statement requirements. Overall, the team found that recently published depression screening accuracy studies are not optimally reported, with individual studies adequately reporting an average of approximately a third of the items in the STARD checklist. Of the 34 STARD items or sub-items, there were 8 items adequately reported, 7 partially reported, 11 inadequately reported, and 4 not applicable in ≥ 50% of included studies; the remaining 4 items had mixed reporting. The team concluded that there is a need for attention to more fulsome reporting of methodological conduct of these studies, mostly related to test methods, test results, and analysis aspects. In order to improve the quality of reporting in depression screening accuracy studies, the research community, journal editors, reviewers, and funders should endorse and implement adherence to STARD. To learn more about the study, click here!


Congratulations to the DEPRESSD team on receiving a new CIHR funding!
| 2022/07/14

We are excited to share that the DEPRESSD team was awarded a 5-year funding (1.4 million) by CIHR for “The DEPRESsion Screening Data (DEPRESSD) Project: A Novel International Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis Collaboration to Advance Research on Depression Screening Tool Accuracy, Develop Statistical Methodology, and Conduct Meta-Research.” This grant will allow our team to update datasets for depression screening tools and conduct related studies in three categories: clinical, development and evaluation of Statistical Methods for IPDMA (Individual participant data meta-analysis) , and meta-research.


Congratulations to Tiffany and the COVID-19 LSR team on their publication in Scientific Reports!
| 2022/07/06

We are happy to share that the COVID-19 LSR team's paper on sex and gender differences in mental health symptom changes from pre-pandemic to early-pandemic is now published in Scientific Reports. This paper, led by Tiffany, identified 12 studies that reported dichotomized sex or gender data both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Assessed outcomes included anxiety symptoms, depression symptoms, general mental health, and stress. The paper concludes that mental health outcomes did not differ or were worse by small amounts among females/women compared to males/men during early COVID-19. Mental health changes should continue to be monitored longitudinally in COVID-19 taking into consideration sex and gender, as well as other population subgroups. Read more about the publication here:

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Brett made a guest appearance on The MUHC Foundation's Health Matters Podcast!
| 2022/07/03

Dr. Thombs appeared on the July 3rd edition of Montreal CJAD 800’s Health Matters for World Scleroderma Day and discussed work that the SPIN Team is doing, including in COVID-19. Listen to the full episode here.


Congratulations to Brett and Claire on their publication in The Lancet Rheumatology!
| 2022/07/03

We are pleased to share that Brett Thombs and Claire Adams editorial: Addressing fatigue in inflammatory rheumatic diseases, was recently published in The Lancet Rheumatology. The editorial describes two trials on non-pharmacological interventions that could help improve fatigue management options in people with inflammatory rheumatic diseases. It highlights that more research is needed to learn how to deliver these interventions in real world practice, particularly in low resourced settings and where there are multiple problems to address. It also discusses ways to further test the interventions to deliver them efficiently and notes the importance of patient autonomy in decision making about their health care. Read more about the editorial here.

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Congratulations to Elsa on receiving a new graduate scholarship!
| 2022/06/30

Congrats to team member and master’s student Elsa-Lynn Nassar who was recently awarded a competitive Cedar and Maple Graduate Scholarship from the Canadian-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry!


Congratulations to the SPIN team on receiving new CIHR funding!
| 2022/06/29

The SPIN Team was awarded a $20,000 CIHR Planning and Dissemination Grant and ranked very high for its proposal titled “Engaging Patients to Develop a Systemic Program of Patient Engagement in Musculoskeletal and Rare Disease Research: Putting Patients First”. The proposal was led by team member Elsa-Lynn Nassar, Dr. Brett Thombs, patient partner Maureen Sauvé, and Dr. Linda Kwakkenbos. This grant will support SPIN’s patient engagement work, which will involve engaging SPIN’s patient partners, scleroderma patient organization leaders, researchers, and clinicians to jointly develop an evidence-based framework for a patient engagement program. Congrats to the SPIN Team!


Congratulations to Elsa on receiving the McGill Post-Graduate Student Society Travel Award!
| 2022/04/13

Team member Elsa-Lynn Nassar was recently awarded the McGill Post-Graduate Student Society Travel Award to attend the Canadian Psychological Association's annual conference being held this June in Calgary. Elsa will be presenting results from her master's thesis work on the methodological quality and reporting transparency of depression screening accuracy studies through three posters and an oral presentation. Congratulations, Elsa!


Congratulations to Amina and COVID LSR team on their publication in General Hospital Psychiatry!

We are excited to share that the COVID-19 LSR team's paper, led by Amina, on effects of mental health interventions among people hospitalized with COVID-19 , is now published in General hospital Psychiatry. This paper identified 47 randomized controlled trials from 3 countries, of which 21 tested the effects of psychological interventions, 5 physical and breathing exercises, and 21 a combination of interventions. It concludes that due to poor quality reporting there is insufficient evidence to make clinical recommendations based on included trials. Read more about the paper here.


Congratulations to the DEPRESSD Team on receiving new funding from CRCC and SSHRC!

We are thrilled to share that our DEPRESSD team was awarded a 1-year grant ($237,861) of New Frontiers in Research Fund. 2021 Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context by Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for our project “Comparison of depression research diagnoses and symptom scores obtained via conventional in-person and alternative methodologies”. This funding will allow the team to robustly evaluate how data collection methods, especially alternative methods increasingly used in COVID-19 may influence sensitive mental health assessments. Thanks to Yin for leading this!


Elsa's meta-research review is now published in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research!| 2022/04/01

Another review, led by team member Elsa-Lynn Nassar and co-authored by team members Dr. Brooke Levis, Marieke Neyer, and Danielle Rice, is published in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research. The team examined 106 primary studies on the accuracy of depression screening tools. The team found that only 11% described a viable sample size calculation and 34% provided reasonably accurate confidence intervals (CIs). Overall, the number of included individuals in most studies was too small to generate reasonably precise accuracy estimates; of 103 studies where 95% CIs were provided or could be calculated, only 7% had sensitivity CI widths of ≤10%, whereas 58 (56%) had widths of ≥21%. The team recommends that future studies of the diagnostic accuracy of depression screening tools should conduct precision-based a priori sample size calculations to either attain desired precision levels or to understand limitations prior to initiating a study. To read the full article, click here here!


Congratulations to Dr. Yin Wu for receiving the McGill MedStar Award| 2022/03/24

We are excited to share that Dr. Yin Wu (DEPRESSD’s postdoctoral research fellow) has earned the McGill Medstar Award for Trainees for her publication in BMJ entitled: Accuracy of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale Depression Subscale (HADS-D) to screen for major depression: systematic review and individual participant data meta-analysis, in recognition of the excellent research carried out in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at McGill University. The winning papers were selected to demonstrate excellence at all levels and to represent all disciplines of our training programs in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.


Congratulations to Olivia and the COVID-19 LSR team on their publication in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry!| 2022/03/14

We are happy to share that the COVID-19 LSR team's paper on the effects of COVID-19 mental health interventions among children, adolescents, and adultsis now published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. This paper, led by Olivia Bonardi, included randomised-controlled trials of interventions to address COVID-19 mental health challenges among people not hospitalised or quarantined due to COVID-19 infection. It identified 9 eligible trials, including 3 well-conducted, well-reported trials that tested interventions designed specifically for COVID-19 mental health challenges, plus 6 other trials with high risk of bias and reporting concerns, all of which tested standard interventions (e.g., individual or group therapy, expressive writing, mindfulness recordings) minimally adapted or not specifically adapted for COVID-19. The paper concluded that interventions that adapt evidence-based strategies for feasible delivery may be effective to address mental health in COVID-19. More well-conducted trials, including for children and adolescents, are needed. Read more about the publication here.


Congratulations to Diana et al. on their publication in the Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology! | 2022/03/04

We are excited to share that Diana et al.’s Letter to Editors: The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale in patients with systemic sclerosis: a psychometric and factor analysis in a monocentric cohort, is now published in the Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology. The letter describes that mental health symptom questionnaires like the HADS are not intended nor calibrated to estimate prevalence; in most cases, they tend to overestimate the true prevalence of psychiatric disorders, often dramatically. It also discusses the evidence that would be needed to recommend mental health screening, which is labour intensive and can lead to unnecessary harms, like all screening programs. Read the letter here.


Meta-research study led by Elsa-Lynn Nassar is accepted for publication in General Hospital Psychiatry! | 2022/02/28

A meta-research study led by Elsa-Lynn Nassar (MSc Trainee) and co-authored by other team members, including Dr. Brooke Levis (Research Associate) and Danielle Rice (PhD Candidate), was recently accepted for publication in General Hospital Psychiatry. The aims of the study were to assess (1) the proportion of recently published studies of depression screening accuracy that appropriately excluded individuals with a confirmed depression diagnosis or who were already undergoing treatment and (2) whether this has improved since the last review of studies published in 2013-2015. A total of 106 primary studies were identified and assessed. Eighteen of 106 (17%) studies appropriately excluded already diagnosed or treated individuals, representing an 11% improvement since the last review. The proportion of depression screening accuracy studies that appropriately exclude individuals already known to have depression remains low. This may significantly bias research findings intended to inform clinical practice, where known depression cases are not screened. To learn more about the study, click here!


Congratulations to the COVID-19 Living Systematic Review (LSR) Team on receiving new CIHR funding! | 2022/02/14

We are excited to share that our LSR team was awarded a two-year grant ($368,998) by CIHR’s Addressing the Wider Health Impacts of COVID-19 program for conducting our project “Loneliness Among Older Adults in COVID-19: A Living Systematic Review of Changes in Loneliness from Pre-COVID-19, Association with Mental Health Outcomes, and Effects of Interventions.” This funding will allow the team to continue to update its synthesis of evidence on mental health in COVID-19 and to specifically evaluate changes in loneliness and the effectiveness of interventions to reduce or prevent loneliness in older adults during COVID-19.


New SPIN publication in The Lancet Rheumatology: Study on COVID-19 vaccination experiences and perceptions in people living with scleroderma. | 2022/01/26

From April 9th to May 15th 2021, the SPIN COVID-19 Vaccine Survey was administered and completed by 936 participants of SPIN’s COVID-19 cohort. At that time, 75% of participants had already received at least one dose, while 10% were described as hesitant to get the vaccine. Hesitant responders also rated potential concerns about the vaccine as higher than non-hesitant participants. Altogether, there was substantially lower vaccine hesitancy than in the general population; the vaccine did not cause major changes in medication; and no severe reactions were reported. In fact, reactions to the vaccine were very similar to those reported in the general population. Congratulations to our colleagues at Cornell University, Drs Jessica Gordon, Kim Showalter and Robert Spiera who led the study. The article can be accessed here.

For more news about the team, please click here ...