Dr Stéphanie Nougaret, a radiologist and researcher on the ICM campus, has just been awarded one of the most coveted grants – the ‘Starting Grant’, granted by the European Research Council to young researchers of the future.
A first for a doctor from Montpellier! This grant is a major recognition of the scientific excellence of the research project she is developing to implement a new approach to the visualisation of cancerous lesions through imaging aided by sophisticated technologies and artificial intelligence… It is the digitalisation of cancer.
From Montpellier to Harvard: a career path emblematic of scientific excellence
After studying medicine in Montpellier, Dr Stephanie Nougaret completed her exemplary career with a year of research in cancer imaging at the prestigious McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Upon her return to France, she pursued her passion for medical cancer research and after passing all the American university exams, she had the honour of practicing medicine as Chief of Clinic at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York), the leading cancer centre in the United States.
She then completed her diplomas with a Habilitation to Supervise Research (HDR) and, thanks to the support of the SIRIC Montpellier Cancer, was able to divide her activity between medicine at the ICM and research into imaging of gynaecological and digestive cancers in the INSERM U1194 team “Radiobiology for personalised and vectored radiotherapy”, co-directed by Dr Jean-Pierre Pouget and Prof David Azria at the Montpellier Cancer Research Institute (IRCM).
Before a long-awaited return to the ICM, she is currently pursuing her scientific projects at the prestigious Harvard Medical School and the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, USA.
Imaging and Artificial Intelligence to improve cancer monitoring
The grant obtained by Dr Nougaret for his project “Unravelling tumor biology in ovarian cancer with precision imaging” is part of an ambitious integrated imaging research programme conducted at the ICM aimed at digitizing cancer, in particular its genetic, immunological and histological characteristics, based on images.
As Dr Nougaret reports, “Advanced ovarian cancer is characterised by numerous heterogeneous cancerous lesions, i.e. different from one another and thus responding differently to treatment. This heterogeneity makes it difficult to follow up patients and to assess whether or not they are responding well to treatment. It is possible to biopsy one or other of the lesions with a needle, but this procedure, which is dreaded by patients, only provides a very partial snapshot of the cancer situation.
My project is to use MRI combined with sophisticated image processing techniques using artificial intelligence to monitor all the cancerous lesions over time and to characterise them in order to provide a microscopic (“in vivo histology”) and molecular rendering of the lesions. This will enable us to identify more aggressive tumour areas that are potentially resistant to treatment and to target them more effectively.
ERC Starting Grants: shining a light on Europe’s researchers of the future
Aimed at young researchers from all over Europe 4 to 7 years after their university thesis, the ERC Starting Grants are funding from the European Research and Innovation Programme to support ambitious and innovative scientific projects. These grants are worth €1.5 million for 5 years.
Nearly 3,000 applications were submitted this year for the ERC Starting Grant, which was won by 408 researchers from 26 European countries, including 39 from France, in all scientific disciplines from geology to astrophysics. Since the creation of the grant more than 15 years ago, no doctor from Montpellier had ever won.
Dr Stéphanie Nougaret, 40 years old, is the first doctor from Montpellier to receive this award.
“As a doctor-researcher, I couldn’t hope for better recognition of my work than to be awarded this ERC! It validates the efforts I have made throughout my career and also highlights the Montpellier Cancer Institute’s capacity for innovation. For me, it is a real springboard in my career.
“I would like to thank the SIRIC Montpellier Cancer and the ICM for their trust and support. More personally, I would like to thank Professor Ychou who has believed in me since 2016, when I arrived at the centre, and who has given me complete independence in my research and my many collaborations. The endowment received will strengthen the scientific dynamics of my project conducted with a view to digitising cancer… to improve patient care!” Dr Stéphanie Nougaret
“This funding from the ERC is a major recognition of the scientific quality of Dr Stéphanie Nougaret’s work and the innovative aspect of her research programme. It also demonstrates the capacity of the Montpellier Cancer SIRIC to develop and support talented researchers. It also demonstrates that the Montpellier basin, through MedVallée, is a fertile territory for health innovations”. Pr Marc Ychou – Director General of the ICM and Director of the SIRIC Montpellier Cancer.