Two young researchers from Bordeaux, L'Oréal-UNESCO talents

Maude Wagner, a PhD student studying public health at the University of Bordeaux and the Bordeaux Population Health Research Center (BPH), and Floriane Gidel, a postdoctoral fellow at the INRIA Bordeaux Sud-Ouest Research Center, are among the 35 national winners of the 2019 "L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards For Women in Science".

  • 21/11/2019

Floriane Gidel (à gauche) et Maude Wagner © Fondation l’Oréal / Jean-Charles Caslot Floriane Gidel (à gauche) et Maude Wagner © Fondation l’Oréal / Jean-Charles Caslot

Since 2007, the L'Oréal Foundation, in partnership with UNESCO and the Académie des Sciences has awarded L'Oréal-UNESCO grants in France for Women in Science. This program promotes and rewards talented young female researchers. To date, a total of 230 young women have received this prize. In 2019, the L’Oréal Foundation-UNESCO partnership awarded 35 grants, 5 of which are specifically reserved for researchers working in French overseas departments and territories (DOM-TOM). The grants are worth €15,000 for doctoral students and €20,000 for postdocs.

This year, among the prize winners were two young researchers from Bordeaux, who received their awards at the official ceremony, held on October 8th 2019 at the Natural History Museum in Paris.  

Maude Wagner: Alzheimer’s disease, a public health priority

Maude Wagner is in the third year of her PhD in public health studying at the Bordeaux Population Health Research Center (BPH – INSERM and University of Bordeaux) and is particularly interested in Alzheimer’s disease.  According to WHO estimates, this disease currently affects 47 million people worldwide. It occurs mainly in the elderly through a gradual decline in memory, but is not the result of normal ageing. The brain lesions responsible for the premature death of neurons appear to develop for years before the appearance of the first symptoms. Prevention research is essential. Maude Wagner studies two of the known modifiable risk factors: lifestyle (e.g. diet, physical activity) and cardiometabolic health (e.g. obesity, diabetes) which should provide essential levers for devising effective prevention strategies against the onset of Alzheimer’s. This PhD student applies sophisticated statistical models to longitudinal data from cohorts of elderly populations, such as the Three-City study of almost 10,000 65-year-olds in Bordeaux, Dijon and Montpellier (hence the name Three-City), or the American Nurses’ Health Study of almost 122,000 nurses.

Maude Wagner was born in Sarlat and grew up in the Black Périgord region in Dordogne. At an early age she was drawn to mathematics, and especially to the notion of “exact sciences”, as she always wanted to understand how things functioned. Following a high school diploma in economics and social sciences, she then pursued a degree in mathematics applied to social sciences at the University of Bordeaux. In her second year she discovered “a powerful tool that would change [her] life: epidemiology. Using statistical methods that can identify the determinants of diseases and understand the underlying mechanisms in the human population immediately became a vocation”. She followed up with a Master’s degree at the Bordeaux School of Public Health (ISPED), and then in 2016 started work on her thesis at the interface between biostatistics and epidemiology  at the BPH research center, supervised by two INSERM researchers, Cécile Proust-Lima and Cécilia Samieri.

Sharing her passion and telling her story

In 2020, she will join Professor David Bennett’s team at Rush University Chicago as a postdoctoral research fellow thanks to financial support from the French Foundation for Alzheimer’s research

Maud is passionate about literature, improvisation theater and travelling, and has created her own podcast “L’écume des thèses", in which she and her colleague Corentin Ségalas talk to other doctoral students about their research and their experience of writing their thesis.

She says she is proud to become a “L’Oréal-UNESCO Rising Talents ambassador”, as this will provide a unique opportunity for new prospects concerning her research in the future, and will allow her to reach out to other young women about her passion and career in this field so far.

Floriane Gidel: treating “incurable” tumors

Floriane Gidel is a postdoctoral fellow at the INRIA research center Bordeaux Sud-Ouest, part of a team working on modeling in oncology (MONC), directed by the INRIA researcher Clair Poignard. She is based at the Bordeaux Institute of Mathematics (IMB - CNRS, Bordeaux INP and University of Bordeaux), in the computer science team.

Her research project focuses on electroporation, a cancer treatment that aims to offer curative rather than palliative care to patients who cannot be treated with current therapies (surgery, radiofrequency, chemotherapy, etc.). She hopes to model its effect on tumors and to produce a visualization tool for clinicians which will help them during clinical interventions.

Since she was little, Floriane Gidel has wanted “to help others, to be useful”, and has participated in various humanitarian projects. Like Maude Wagner, she has “always enjoyed science, the rigor and curiosity that it requires, and the fact that it makes it possible to explain everything that goes on around us”. Her career path has been varied, from the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Toulouse (INSA), where she became an engineer in mathematics and numerical modeling, to university placements in Copenhagen, Lausanne, followed by 18 months at the University of Leeds in England and 18 months at the Netherlands Maritime Institute for her PhD on extreme wave modeling (“rogue” waves).

Putting women back at the center of science

Floriane Gidel very much appreciates this wonderful initiative that enables her to become ambassador of the “Rising Talents” program, and enjoys explaining how and why she uses mathematics to those who still have a bad memory of maths at school. “These same people surprise themselves when they find they are interested in what I do, and ask questions to find out more”. The popularization of science that is promoted by the “Rising Talents” program is therefore essential in order to bring the public, and especially young people who have not yet decided on a career, back to science. This prize is also an opportunity for me to explain that it is important to promote the role of women within science, because the lack of women in scientific research teams means that many problems that concern women are not (or not until recently) dealt with by science.”

For example, everyone knows the symptoms of cardiac arrest in men, but very few know the symptoms in women, explains Floriane Gidel, yet cardio-vascular disease is the number one cause of death in women in France. Even more specific to women is endometriosis, which affects more than 10% of women and yet the disease is still poorly understood and underdiagnosed, because research teams have long been made up mainly of men, and therefore scientists were unaware of the existence of this chronic disease. “Today it is really important to adjust this imbalance in research teams in order to avoid gendered science and to ensure that we deal with problems that affect all of society. I believe that the L'Oréal-UNESCO award is a wonderful opportunity to ensure that future generations are aware of this.”