Actualité - Innovation

ERC: Yohanns Bellaïche is awarded the Holy Grail of European Research


An "intelligent" microscope, which anticipates the needs of researchers! This is the alluring promise of the project of Yohanns Bellaïche, head of the Polarity, division, and morphogenesis team at Institut Curie.

Yohanns Bellaiche

Yohanns Bellaiche et Olivier Renaud

The European Research Council made no mistake when it demonstrated its confidence by granting one of the most sought-after European funding packages - a grant of 150,000 euros over 18 months - so that he can provide the proof of concept.

In concrete terms, the project selected by the European Research Council (ERC) plans to

develop an artificial intelligence IT tool that learns to recognize, using microscope images, when a biological phenomenon is about to occur, and then adapts the way the picture is taken, for example by zooming in, or taking a succession of images closer together in time

explains the project leader Yohanns Bellaïche, head of the Polarity, division, and morphogenesis team at the Institut Curie Research Center.


Today, without this type of system, either researchers keep an eye on their microscopes for hours waiting for the phenomenon that they want to observe - for example mitosis (cell division) or apoptosis (cell death) - to occur in order to capture images, or they program their microscope so that it takes thousands of photographs of samples to be sure of capturing the relevant phenomenon. In the first case, the observation is time-consuming for the researcher. In the second case, the operation produces very large quantities of unnecessary images that need to be analyzed to then keep just a few interesting ones, and furthermore the biological sample continuously photographed becomes damaged by the light.

As part of research funded by a previous ERC grant, Yohanns Bellaïche developed this idea which is "easy to have, harder to achieve," he admits. But he is upbeat: "we have an excellent imaging platform at Institut Curie and we've already done a lot of work with Varun Kapoor, a PhD student in image analysis, and Olivier Renaud, director of the imaging platform." During a previous project funded by the ERC, Yohanns Bellaïche and his colleagues have already developed this type of "deep learning" program to track and understand cell dynamics. A program must now be developed that can learn to recognize other interesting biological phenomena.

This is a recognition of our work and it's very interesting for Institut Curie, who could take a major step forward in this field of imaging through this project," adds Yohanns Bellaïche. "We want to create microscopes that don't just acquire images, but that react in real time. This innovation may be protected and developed since it may apply to a number of biological phenomena and could therefore be of interest to many laboratories throughout the world.

This new tool will be made available to the scientific community, but may also be sold to microscope manufacturers so that they can adapt it for other uses.

Thanks to this ERC grant of 150,000 euros, the fourth received to date at Institut Curie, Yohanns Bellaïche will be recruiting a specialized engineer who will devote him/herself to this project "in order to move forward more quickly and make this tool usable for as many users as possible," he explains. In his own laboratory, he has high expectations of this program to continue to better understand how gene regulation controls morphogenesis of the cell...

This very selective grant is once again proof of the remarkable performance of Institut Curie researchers, since out of the nine French winners selected in this call for projects, two are won by researchers working at the Research Center.