Congratulations to alumna Victoire Cachoux (G16 Engineering), whose PhD work at the Institut Curie has been recognised with a L’Oréal-UNESCO Young Talents France prize for Women in Science.

Victoire follows in the footsteps of the Master of Churchill College, Professor Dame Athene Donald, who was honoured by the foundation with a L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science in 2009, for her contribution to unravelling the mysteries of the physics of messy materials.

As a 2009 Laureate of the L’Oreal-UNESCO foundation, I am delighted to see the success of a Churchill alumna in the French national programme of their Young Talents programme. L’Oreal believe strongly in facilitating the progress of women in science, and their support will be invaluable to Victoire in her career, as I myself found. Many congratulations to Victoire! Professor Dame Athene Donald

We caught up with Victoire to find out more about her time as an MPhil student at Churchill College and subsequent award-winning PhD work at the Institut Curie.

My year as an MPhil student in Cambridge was hugely important to my education. In addition to learning crucial technical and theoretical skills for my PhD, such as computational modelling and biophysics, I developed autonomy, critical thinking and the willingness to communicate about science during this MPhil year. It definitely made me a better researcher and paved the way to my PhD. I also loved the atmosphere at Churchill and meeting young scientists whose areas of expertise were very distinct from my own, something I look forward to doing again with my fellow L’Oréal laureates!

Throughout her MPhil year Victoire worked with Dr Alexandre J. Kabla in the Department of Engineering and they formed a collaboration with a French team of biologists led by Dr Benoît Ladoux. Together, they developed computational models based on physical laws to try and understand impressive collective cell movements that Benoît’s team were observing and their work was later published in Nature Physics.

Victoire’s PhD work at Institut Curie, in the team of Dr Yohanns Bellaïche, aimed at understanding the regulation of apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death. Read more about Victoire’s award-winning PhD work below:

Apoptosis plays a key role in various biological processes such as development, proliferation, and the suppression of unfit and potentially dangerous cells in an organism. Defects in the regulation of apoptosis are characteristic of some diseases such as cancer.

While the genetic regulation of apoptosis is well-known, its modulation by biophysical factors (such as the mechanical environment of cells) remains to be understood. During my PhD, I discovered new, predictive and very early geometrical factors that play a key role in regulating apoptosis: cells that are both small and smaller than their neighbour cells are at a much higher risk to die. We were able to link these geometric characteristics to genetic signalling pathways. By doing so, we bridged the gap between genetics, cell geometry and biophysics, and advanced our understanding of this crucial cell process. 

The originality of my work is that I am not a biologist, but instead, a bioinformatician with a training in physics. In this PhD project, I used advanced computational techniques such as machine learning, data analysis and modelling. These techniques, combined with the expertise of my team in live-imaging and genetics, allowed us to study apoptosis in an innovative way.

 Image credit: ©Jean-Charles Caslot – Fondation L’Oréal.