Actualité - Innovation

Two Institut Curie researchers secure Human Frontier Science Program 2020 grants

Elsa Champion
06/09/2020
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Last March, Pierre Léopold and Cécile Sykes received funding from the prestigious international organization Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) for their respective projects on organ growth and simulation of movements in cells.
Leopold sykes

The purpose of the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) is to promote basic and innovative research in the field of life sciences, from molecular biology to cognitive neuroscience. Founded in 1989 at the initiative of the Japanese government, this organization has around thirty member countries. The HFSP supports research projects through funding and awards research grants in different categories, in particular to young researchers in the form of young investigator grants.

Pierre Léopold, a project examining organ growth

The HFSP project led by Pierre Léopold, director of the Genetics and Developmental Biology unit (Institut Curie, CNRS, Inserm), with his colleague David Lubensky from the University of Michigan, focuses on organ growth. It involves understanding the way in which organs reach their final size. The question specifically focuses on bilateral organs, for which the difference in size between left and right is generally less than 1%.

The two teams will use the fruit fly model to address these fundamental questions. Pierre Léopold’s team has acquired recognized expertise in the field of growth control. David Lubensky’s team will provide its significant expertise in theoretical physics and modelling. The project proposes integrating these two approaches for a quantitative study of the role of cellular death in organ size adjustment processes.

Funding in the amount of USD 750,000 is provided for three years. “This generous backing from the HFSP is a wonderful opportunity. It helps us to shore up a partnership established several years ago between our two laboratories with their complementary expertise,” explains Pierre Léopold.

Cécile Sykes, a method for simulating disintegration of protein aggregates within cells

Actin is a protein, a biopolymer of the cell, which gathers in filaments and represents a large portion of the “skeleton of the cell”. These filaments, when they assemble, are able to push the membrane and thus deform the cell. This mechanism is a stage in cellular “motility”, which is increased in the case of metastases.

The Biomimetism of cellular movement team headed by Cécile Sykes and Julie Plastino in the Physico-Chimie Curie Lab (Institut Curie, CNRS, PSL and Sorbonne University) has revealed the way it works by mimicking it using a minimum number of “ingredients”. The project selected by the HFSP aims to develop a method to target the application of force inside the cells. It involves locally triggering the build-up of actin already present in the cell, this time to disperse the protein aggregates formed during neurodegenerative diseases under the effect of the force produced. These aggregates are toxic whereas the proteins forming them, once dispersed, are not.

Along with our colleagues (Takanari Inoue, Johns Hopkins USA), we are going to develop activation of dispersion via a light signal, after adapting the biochemistry. We will then apply the method directly on the neurons in which these aggregates are formed (with Eran Perlson, Tel-Aviv University, Israel).

The grant is for an amount of USD 350,000, to be shared between our three laboratories, for a 3-year period.

This funding will enable me to add a person to my team for 2 or 3 years to carry out tests, in conjunction with my two colleagues, profiting from the expertise of the team and the biochemistry platform of the unit.

Find out more on the Human Science Frontier Program website.