Portrait: Fatima Mechta-Grigoriou, strategist in the fight against cancer

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At Institut Curie, in Paris, in front of a vast laboratory almost deserted in August 2018, Fatima Mechta-Grigoriou, alone and studious, is already preparing for her return. When we arrived, she jumped up, smiling, to welcome us. “It’s a very warm person, appreciated by all, had warned us the first research director, Moshe Yaniv, emeritus professor at the Pasteur Institute and member of the Academy of Sciences. In thirty-five years of career, I I had a lot of students, but she … it was a nugget! ” Since then, the brilliant student has kept her promises. Last spring, the Institut de France awarded him the Simone Foundation and Cino Del Luca Scientific Grand Prix. A prestigious award, worth € 275,000, which raises her among the world’s leading figures in “Adolescent, I was focused on science, but I hesitated between medicine and research” She is nevertheless a pioneer: the first to have understood the molecular links between cancer, aging and oxidative stress. “When we breathe, oxygen is absorbed and metabolized by every cell in our body, which produces waste: the toxic derivatives of oxygen.These molecules are then eliminated continuously … but sometimes they are ‘accumulate,’ explains the one who made the ‘click’ in 2004, ten years after having joined the Institut Pasteur as a researcher in molecular biology.We realized that by genetically suppressing the antioxidant defenses of mice, they were doing well … except that they were aging much faster and developing more cancers. ” The young researcher then makes the link: during aging, the antioxidant defenses weaken, leading to a tendency to the accumulation of toxic derivatives. “These molecules will then alter the function of cells or mutate their DNA, increasing the appearance of cancers.” With this discovery, Fatima Mechta-Grigoriou decided to get closer to the doctors and their patients. “I had been doing ‘pure’ basic research for years, but I had always wanted to develop projects with oncology.” She then takes risks, and resigns from the Institut Pasteur to join the Institut Curie. “It was an extremely innovative angle,” recalls Prof. Daniel Louvard, who recruits her in 2006 as research director at this institute specializing in the fight against cancer, to create her own Stress and Cancer laboratory . not postulated, I would have gone to get her. I was very impressed by her motivation and her desire to create a link between research and the clinic. ” A point to which Fatima Mechta-Grigoriou is indeed very sensitive. ” As a teenager, I was focused on science, but I ‘hesitated between medicine and research’ , explains the daughter of an electrician father in the building and a mother accountant.But the schoolgirl of Rueil-Malmaison (Hauts-de-Seine) undergoes a decisive test, which roots her choice: “I was faced with the death of my best friend, who died of leukemia in just two years. The experience has been instrumental because the failure of medicine has made the importance of research even more compelling to me. ” A talent to create a link with his collaborators Today, Fatima Mechta-Grigoriou directs about fifteen researchers, postdoctoral fellows and PhDs, collaborating biologists, doctors or even bioinformaticians … “Throughout my career, I have never experienced a problem of sexism or of racism, it may be due to the middle of science, more open to the world, more thoughtful, “she says. A success that she owes more surely to her talent and her ability to create a bond with her collaborators. A paid recipe: his team has shown that if oxidative stress promotes tumor development, it also helps to enhance the effectiveness of certain types of chemotherapy (taxanes). These effectively eliminate cancer cells by increasing the amount of oxide. “We were able to establish that during treatment, patients should not take antioxidants recommended for healthy people as part of a balanced diet, because they counter the effect of therapy,” says the scientist. “The tumor is a dynamic ecosystem and Fatima has been able to show the influence of oxidative stress in this tumor microenvironment made of different cell types,” recalls Daniel Louvard, who hails in her the researcher “with very strong ideas about what she wants to accomplish. ” The continuation of promising works Because the team leader is also a formidable manager, discussing his budgets on foot. “This aspect diverts us too often from science! she laments. And you have to have passion to continue … ” This is his case: ” I think about it all the time, when I’m gardening, in the shower, and even at night! ” The other engine of this course of excellence “My husband and my daughter (27 years old), whose unwavering support was decisive.” “Extremely proud” of having won the Institut de France prize – “I really did not expect it” – She continues her dream: “May patients be saved one day thanks to my works!” It may be the 70% that do not respond to immunotherapy, a strategy that activates the immune cells trapped in the tumor. Especially women who suffer from breast cancers say triple negative for which no targeted therapy exists to date. “We have shown that some type of” healthy “cells in the tumor, fibroblasts, are able to inhibit immune cells, so to improve the response to immunotherapy, we must target these fibroblasts whose development is favored. by oxidative stress. ” The endowment of the prize will be partly devoted to this promising line of research. BIO EXPRESS 1965 Born in Rueil-Malmaison (Hauts-de-Seine). 1994 Researcher at the Pasteur Institute, Paris. 2006 Creation of the Stress and Cancer laboratory at the Institut Curie in Paris. 2012 Decorated with the National Order of Merit 2018 Scientific Grand Prix of the Simone Foundation and Cino Del Duca of the Institut de France.

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