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Céline Vallot’s team is honored with a prestigious European grant


The ambitious plan to study the dynamics of chromatin modifications in breast cancer cells has earned Institut Curie researcher, Céline Vallot, a generous grant from the European Research Council in order to complete it.

Céline Vallot

€1.5 million euros. This is the amount awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) to Céline Vallot, team leader at Institut Curie; it is the maximum amount awarded within this young researcher support program, the ERC starting grants.

This is the result of all the work accomplished these past three years and it will enable us to continue our work by consolidating positions that have already been created, recruiting new team members and financing the supplies that we need.

she explains.

Vallot now has five years to implement the project, which appealed to this demanding European Commission jury. Its goal is to follow the dynamics of the chromatin alterations in breast cancer tumor cells, in particular when they undergo therapeutic stress.

Indeed, during cancer treatments we sometimes see resistance phenomena occur. After the tumor initially regresses - sometimes disappearing completely - medications lose effectiveness and cancer gains the upper hand. Research to understand and counter these resistance mechanisms is therefore essential. Céline Vallot has already begun to study them with her team, using single-cell analyses. This is a research strategy that uses microfluidics and enables single cells to be isolated, each in a microscopic droplet, in order to study their individual characteristics rather than study the overall characteristics of a group of cells, as is usually the case.

For the past ten years, knowledge on the genetic differences between these cells has deepened. In breast cancer, however, no recurring genetic mutation to date has been able to explain the appearance of resistance to treatment. Three years ago Céline Vallot began to study the epigenetic heterogeneity of tumor cells - meaning their variations in DNA organization which is a factor in gene expression - in order to understand the emergence of cells that are resistant to chemotherapy.

She asked the ERC to add another dimension to her project; namely a timing component, to track the dynamics of the chromatin changes over time, and in particular the response to treatment. How do non-genetic characteristics change over time, when cancer develops and under the effects of treatments?

Medications targeting epigenetic factors already exist, but they have not be proven to be significantly effective in breast cancer and other solid tumors. Understanding this chromatin dynamic could help us use the medications more effectively and offer new therapeutic targets. 

Vallot hopes.