Highlight: Stéphanie Debette, a brilliant mind

Meet Stéphanie Debette, Professor of Epidemiology and Neurologist, a researcher full of enthusiasm and curiosity, a philanthropist, and much more...

Her enthusiasm has not aged a bit. “I have been passionate about research since I was a child," jokes Stéphanie Debette, 40 years on. “I chose medicine to understand the functioning of the brain, but I was interested in many other things, like languages, art and history.” Her boundless intellectual curiosity and her attraction to life abroad keep her moving forward. Rather than follow a direct path, the young woman has preferred to take a few detours.

From Lille where she studied medicine, to New York, London, then Boston where she completed a two-year post-doc; from Neurology, her residency specialization, to epidemiology and genetic epidemiology that she studied at the same time and teaches today. Then on to Paris, where she returned to the French university hospital system and met Professor Christophe Tzourio, leader of an epidemiological survey on the health of students - the famous i-Share2 cohort - selected to be part of the French Investments for the Future program. He joined the University of Bordeaux in 2012 and is responsible for Stéphanie Debette coming aboard the Bordeaux ship two years later.

The American dream

During an internship for her medical studies in a hospital in the Bronx in New York, Stéphanie Debette promised herself that she would return to the United States someday. “I was fascinated by the American dynamism" she confesses. "And at that time I really wanted to do my post-doc there.

A few years later, in 2007, during a neurology conference in Boston, she met a statistician from the Framingham study. Well known by insiders in the field, this long-term epidemiological study that started in 1948 in the city it is named after (Massachusetts-USA) aims at detecting the risk factors of cardiovascular diseases. The subject was perfectly adapted to the research conducted by Stéphanie Debette, which she had started in Lille, on the causes of stroke in young adults, which led to her conducting a comprehensive study from start to finish.

I was very excited because the revolution of high-speed technology, applied to genetic studies, was in full swing. New methods were being tested at an international scale to carry out these studies and Boston was one of the first universities to use them. I was lucky; my application was accepted right away.” The following two years were particularly rewarding, both on a professional and personal level. “I learned a great deal alongside the researchers. They work collaboratively in a network with many laboratories throughout the world. An American way of doing things that was very instructive!” the young woman enthuses.

A researcher, always and forever

Back in Paris in 2010, after having twin daughters, the young mother returned to the university, that of Versailles St Quentin, then Lariboisière, and INSERM. The recipient of a Chair of Excellence from the French National Research Agency, since her return she has been working in direct collaboration with the epidemiology unit directed by Christophe Tzourio. An experience enriched by those of the past. "Each stage brings with it a unique experience and contacts, it is truly invaluable" she confides.

In 2014, she obtained the position of Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Hospital Practitioner of Neurology in Bordeaux, as well as a "young researcher" grant from the select European Research Council (ERC) for her SEGWAY project. This project aims at studying the specific genetic markers in the structuring of the brain in young adults, using magnetic resonance imaging as part of the i-Share study. For this significant program she will benefit from a grant of €1.5 million over 5 years.

In addition to this, Stéphanie Debette is simultaneously leading other projects the world over. Always involving fruitful interactions, meetings and opportunities.

Although she devotes the majority of her time to research, the doctor in her still values the importance of the clinical aspect of her career. “It is important to maintain this human aspect" she insists. “Contact with patients is the initial motivation that led me to study medicine and provoked the ideas that now inspire the research we are carrying out.” She has come full circle.

It is important to maintain this living clinical aspect. Contact with patients provokes the ideas that in turn inspire the research.

Music for the Brain

This "crazy idea" of using art to serve science is indeed one that is full of life. A pianist and music lover in her free time, Stéphanie Debette has also succeeded in the challenge of creating the Music for the Brain association, aimed at organizing musical charity events for supporting brain research; an initiative generously supported by the Bernard Magrez Cultural Institute, with support from the University of Bordeaux and the Fondation Bordeaux Université. Two benefit concerts have already been held and were very successful with the people of Bordeaux.

The new resident of the city particularly appreciated this. “I was strongly encouraged and supported by the Bordeaux Initiative of Excellence and the University of Bordeaux. Within the establishment, researchers collaborate closely together, dialogue and discussion are favored”.

Last but not least, Stéphanie Debette states that she is very happy living in Bordeaux, discovering a region previously unknown to her. A balanced and fulfilling quality of life for this impressive forty-year-old who wears many different hats.

> A portrait to read in U Magazine #5

Updated on 28/03/2018