The L’Oréal – UNESCO 2019 Young Talent Award
Floriane Gidel, a young woman perfectly at home in the world of science
A postdoc student at the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest centre working as part of an oncology modelling team (MONC), Floriane Gidel opted for mathematics, attracted as she was to the diverse nature of its areas of application. She currently designs models for a new form of cancer treatment, electroporation, working alongside radiologists and biologists. The L’Oréal-UNESCO Young Talent Award comes as recognition for her incredible career to date, which has seen her working in five different countries across Europe.
Floriane Gidel became a researcher because of her gift for mathematics, believing in the discipline's capacity to solve problems in a range of different fields. Encouragement also came from her family, many of her female relatives having succeeded in scientific careers.
“One of my cousins is a researcher, another is a doctor, a third is a plant manager.They were examples that I could identify with, always encouraging me to aim as high as I possibly could. So the idea that I might be choosing a so-called male profession never crossed my mind”.
Mathematical modelling for medicine and for the environment
Floriane made a solid start to her career, which had an international flavour right from the off. After spending an Erasmus semester in Denmark, she did research internships in Switzerland and Germany while studying for her degree in engineering. She then received funding for a PhD from the prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, splitting her time between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Since October 2018, she has been a postdoc student at the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest centre, with funding from the NUM4SEP* project.
Floriane Gidel wanted to use “her” mathematical tools in a way that would benefit medicine and the environment. Mission accomplished: over the years, she has modelled heat transfer in fractured rocks, the lung capacity of patients on artificial respiration, and “rogue” waves which are capable of destroying even the biggest ships at sea. A year ago, her focus returned to the medical world and a project within the wider context of the Cancer Plan referred to as NUMEP,** directed by Clair Poignard (Inria), where her work involves modelling the impact of a new type of treatment for cancerous tumours: electroporation.
Transforming electroporation into a curative treatment
This highly targeted, relatively non-invasive form of treatment, which has limited side effects, can be used to kill tumours by applying short electrical impulses to them using electrodes. Electroporation is used in cases where cancers are located in close proximity to the vital organs, where operating or radiotherapy treatment is not possible.
However, given that it is still a new treatment, doctors are using it with caution and exclusively for palliative care, i.e. to improve comfort, but not as a cure.“My job is to model the way electroporation breaks down the tumour, helping clinicians when it comes to selecting the number of electrodes, the intensity of the electrical impulses, etc. The long-term objective is for this to become a curative treatment in its own right.”
Floriane launched herself into this project, unwavering in her determination.“I am pleased to have found a really useful purpose for my work as a mathematician.It has also given me the opportunity to work alongside researchers from other disciplines, specialists in computational science, radiology and biology, allowing me to expand my knowledge.” In early September, she was in attendance at the 3rd World Congress on Electroporation, where she learned about promising clinical trials underway.
“Organising awareness-raising days for middle school pupils, high school pupils and students”
The 20,000-euro grant that comes with the L’Oréal - UNESCO Young Talent Award means that Floriane Gidel will have greater resources at her disposal for continuing with her work:“I am hoping to acquire a more powerful simulation machine for the lab, to recruit a master’s student as an intern, to take part in more international congresses and to travel more to California, where the supercomputers for the project are installed.”
Another of her objectives is to encourage middle school pupils, high school pupils and undergraduates to take up science subjects:“I plan on organising two awareness-raising days for them.I want to explain that I am working in a young team made up predominantly of women, where everyone is valued based on the work they do, and not based on whether they are a man or a woman. I hope to be able to convince them that mathematicians can really thrive and have successful careers. Women belong in these fields - I don't think that’s up for debate.”
* NUM4SEP brings together researchers from the MONC project team at the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest centre and the University of California Santa Barbara, in the USA.
** NUMEP brings together researchers from the MONC project team at the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest centre, Jean Verdier University Hospital in Bondy (Seine-Saint-Denis) and the IPBS in Toulouse.