Six young researchers from Pasteur Network member institutes honored at the 2023 PhD graduation ceremony

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Six young graduates from the Pasteur Network were honored at the Institut Pasteur’s PhD graduation ceremony on December 8, 2023 in Paris.

This celebration marked the end of a chapter for this new generation of researchers and highlighted the excellence of the growing young scientific community trained at the Institut Pasteur, a Pasteur Network member.

This celebration, organized by the Institut Pasteur’s Education Department since 2013, marked its 11th anniversary, highlighting the scientific excellence of the Institut Pasteur’s young scientist community.

Chaired by Monica Sala, Director of the Education Department and Vincenzo di Bartolo, Head of the graduation ceremony organization team, this edition included an opening address by Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a climatologist, CEA Director of Research and Co-Chair of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as guest of honor.

She emphasized the intrinsic link between climate change and research, highlighting how the increase in temperature fosters the spread of vector-borne diseases. Hence, pursuing research is crucial in supporting the active response to this urgent matter.

The graduates were introduced by Monica Sala, Director of the Education Department at the Institut Pasteur in Paris and Rebecca Grais, Executive Director of the Pasteur Network. The doctoral students hailed from all four regions of the Pasteur Network – Africa, Americas, Asia-Pacific, Euro-Mediterranean – and had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of topics as detailed below. They all chose to share a quote that inspires them.

  • Elliot Fara Nandrasana Rakotomanana

PhD in social and cultural anthropology, University of Bordeaux (France)
Institut Pasteur de Madagascar/Epidemiology and Clinical Research Unit

Thesis: Stunting and the risk of contamination by the living environment. An anthropology of early childhood through the prism of spatial and social organizations in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Antananarivo (Madagascar)

“Do not stop! With passion, courage and determination, we can overcome fear, sadness… progress and can break the barrier to success.”

Elliot Rakotomanana earned a postgraduate degree (DEA) in Biochemistry applied to nutrition from the University of Antananarivo (Madagascar) in 2006. He joined the Institut Pasteur de Madagascar (IPM) within the Epidemiology and Clinical Research Unit as national coordinator of a socio-anthropological study on stunting in 2014. Passionate about anthropology, in 2016 he embarked on studies in this discipline at the University of Bordeaux through the AFRIBIOTA project, a multidisciplinary research program within the Pasteur Network addressing pediatric environmental enteropathy and stunting. He completed a master’s degree in September 2017 and defended his doctoral thesis under the supervision of Prof. Marc-Eric Gruénais (Bordeaux University) and Dr. Tamara Giles-Vernick (Institut Pasteur) in January 2023. He reveals the broad processes underlying the resource-poor neighborhoods of Antananarivo and the inability of local inhabitants to manage waste, drawing on history, political science and geography. His approach is original; instead of asking why children are malnourished and experience stunting, he demonstrates why and how certain children can avoid it. Since 2018, he has been the deputy head of the “Health & Social Sciences” team at IPM.

  • Amina Gihbid

Assistant professor at the High Institute of Nursing Professions and Health Techniques (ISPITS), Morocco & Associate member of the Oncovirology Laboratory, Institut Pasteur du Maroc

Thesis: Evaluation of viral, genetic and metabolic prognosis biomarkers for nasopharyngeal cancer

“That man can have nothing but what he strives for (39); That (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight (40); Then will he be rewarded with a reward complete (41).” Surat An-Najm (The Star), Quran

Amina Gihbid holds a PhD in Virology and Molecular Biology. Her research was conducted in the Oncovirology Laboratory at the Institut Pasteur du Maroc (IPM) and Faculty of Science Ain-Chock Casablanca – Morocco. It was mainly focused on the assessment and identification of potential viral, genetic and metabolic biomarkers that could predict early treatment outcomes in patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) and improve the prognosis of this particularly prevalent malignancy in Morocco. The findings of her research highlighted circulating Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA viral load, along with metabolic parameters derived from [18F] FDG PET/CT scan as promising prognostic biomarkers in the clinical management of NPC. These biomarkers could therefore help to personalize patient treatment according to the risk of relapse and recurrence.

At IPM, she is currently working on two ongoing projects, one focusing on characterization of the epidemiological-genetic architecture of breast cancer in North Africa: therapeutic and socio-economic impact, and the second project pertaining to Personalized Medicine in North Africa (PerMediNA). She is also involved in studies conducted within IPM’s Oncovirology Laboratory, investigating the viral etiology of oropharyngeal carcinoma and breast cancer in Morocco.

Transversal activities in Applied Genomics at Sciensano, Belgium

Thesis: Exploring the added value of Whole Genome Sequencing in routine and pandemic viral surveillance

“The essence of a successful PhD lies in the ability to evolve and align research with an ever-changing world.”

Laura Van Poelvoorde earned her Master of Science in industrial engineering with a focus on biochemistry from the University of Ghent in 2017. Her interest in research and public health led her to the WIV-ISP (Scientific Institute of Public Health, now part of Sciensano) as a PhD researcher within the “Transversal Activities in Applied Genomics” department under the supervision of Nancy Roosens (Sciensano) and Xavier Saelens (Ghent University). Her PhD research focused on innovative strategies to improve the surveillance of influenza which led to exploring whole genome sequencing and analysis. This experience was extended to SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater surveillance. These studies led to a PhD in Biochemistry and Biotechnology in January 2023 and to 10 peer-reviewed publications on genomic strategies that contribute to improving respiratory virus surveillance for the benefit of society. After graduating, Laura Van Poelvoorde secured a permanent position at Sciensano focused on developing methods for pathogen detection in wastewater.

  • Irini Thanou

Laboratory of Stem Cells and Neuroimaging / Neurobiology Department, Hellenic Pasteur Institute, Greece

Thesis: Exploring the Brain’s Response to Chemotherapy: Neurogenesis at the Forefront

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” S. Beckett

Irini Thanou’s academic journey in neurobiology has centered on understanding the intricate dynamics of adult neurogenic niches in both homeostasis and pathology. During her PhD research, she unveiled novel migratory routes of neural progenitors in response to chemotherapeutic agents, shedding light on the dynamic interplay of instinct and extrinsic cues regulating neurogenic regions and adjacent brain parenchyma. Exploring the brain’s regenerative capacity in response to pathology, she contributed to a published project using neurogenic microRNAs and small molecules for the direct reprogramming of astrocytes into functional neurons. The Institut Pasteur has played a pivotal role in shaping her research. Collaborative initiatives within the network allowed her to engage in projects investigating Alzheimer’s disease (AD) risk factors in brain homeostasis, providing valuable insights into the emerging role of neuroinflammation as a driving factor in AD. She also actively participated in a study on dynamic interactions between astrocytes and microglia during neuroinflammation, employing cutting-edge intravital brain imaging techniques. She aspires her next scientific chapter to be even more captivating.

  • Beatriz Chaves

DTI-CNPq research fellow, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) – Laboratory on Thymus Research (LPT)

Thesis: Anti-VLA-4 antibodies for multiple sclerosis treatment: rational design and study of their mechanisms of action by high-content cell imaging

“Everything that challenges me makes me feel alive.”

Beatriz Chaves is a biotechnologist with experience in T-cell biology and antibody development. She has a bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology (UFC – Fortaleza, Brazil), a master’s degree in Cell and Molecular Biology (Fiocruz – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and a PhD in Biotechnology and Health/Computational and Systems Biology (Fiocruz/INFINITy-INSERM – Eusébio/Rio de Janeiro/Toulouse, Brazil/France). During her academic journey, she worked on the in silico design, production and functional evaluation of antibodies targeting Very Late Antigen 4 (VLA-4) for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) treatment. Throughout her PhD, she investigated the morphological profiling of MS patients’ lymphocytes by high-content cell imaging to determine their clinical response to the current antibody-based anti-VLA-4 therapy. The research, collaborations and scientific skills developed by Beatriz in her academic career have so far resulted in one patent; five published, one accepted and two ongoing papers; and three awards won at conferences. Beatriz’s current research goals include gaining a better understanding of the role of T-cells in MS pathogenesis and improving current immunotherapies for chronic diseases.

  • Noé Ochida

Institut Pasteur de Nouvelle-Calédonie
Institut Pasteur Paris, Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases Unit

Thesis: Modeling the dynamics of COVID-19, dengue, and the establishment of Wolbachia in Aedes aegypti populations in New Caledonia / Theme: Infectious diseases modeling

A great adventure with quite a few twists along the way and many joys”

Noé Ochida from New Caledonia graduated from Montpellier University with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. For his master’s degree, he shifted from the microscopic scale to study the ecology of infectious diseases. Recognizing the impact of dengue in New Caledonia, he pursued an M2 internship at the Institut Pasteur de Nouvelle-Calédonie (IPNC) to work on a public health issue in his homeland. This opportunity led him to a PhD at IPNC in collaboration with the IRD on modeling dengue dynamics and the establishment of Wolbachia in Aedes aegypti populations in New Caledonia. His research focused on present and future climate risk of dengue outbreaks in New Caledonia using downscaled climate projections of global climate models. He also modeled Wolbachia strategy deployment in Nouméa, suggesting optimal release strategies and assessing its impact on dengue transmission. He had the opportunity to provide modeling support to decision makers during the COVID-19 crisis in New Caledonia. He is currently in a postdoctoral research role at the Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases Unit led by Prof. Simon Cauchemez at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.


Six young researchers from Pasteur Network member institutes honored at the 2023 PhD graduation ceremony

Pasteur Network