Would you tell us what sparked your interest in basic science?
I developed my interest in basic science during my scientific courses in Paris at the University Pierre et Marie Curie. Some of the professors tickled my curiosity about the origin of life and the intimate functioning of cells.
You have made important discoveries in Autophagy. Is there one particular experiment or discovery you feel most proud of? An ‘aha moment’?
I believe that the most important discovery by my group was of the distinct role of phosphoinositol 3 kinases in mammalian autophagy with class III PI3K being an activator and class I an inhibitor.
Tell us more about the questions your lab is currently investigating and where you see your research moving in the future?
We have three main lines of research in the lab. First, we study the role of membrane dynamics during the early phase of autophagosome biogenesis. Second, we are analyzing how autophagy integrates into the cellular response to mechanical stress via the primary cilium. Third, we are attempting to develop new drugs to target autophagy in cancer cells. These lines are for the present and for our future research.
Your research has helped characterize the molecular mechanisms regulating autophagy. To you, what important questions in the field of autophagy are left unanswered?
We have yet to reach the level where our basic scientific understanding of the molecular mechanisms of autophagy can be translated into clinically useful therapies. Although I believe that significant progress is being made in this area, we lack an understanding of the early events in autophagosome formation such as membrane dynamics, and we need to identify bio-markers that will allow us to determine when autophagy levels are abnormal either resulting from or causing pathological situations.
Describe why your research is important to the ordinary citizen.
Autophagy allows a cell to respond to stress situations via its limited auto-digestion. How this auto-digestion is controlled to avoid cell demise and how we can modulate this auto-digestion is key to the development of new therapeutic approaches for treatment of diseases like cancer that touch all of our lives directly or indirectly.
Outside of autophagy, what research do you find especially exciting right now?
The origin of universe: the very first moments after the big bang and the mechanism of evolution of species – especially the evolution of hominids – I find to be fascinating subjects.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in a tenure track position?
To do, to do, and to do it again. To be strong-willed and persevering. To know when to listen to or not to listen to external advice.
And finally, if you could have one superpower, what superpower would that be?
The superpower to have no superpower - because here comes to my mind the myth of the Midas king and his golden touch…Being human and acting as a human being is in principle a wonderful power.
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