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Cécile Alanio, MD, PhD

Cécile Alanio, MD, PhD

Parker Bridge Scholar

Biography

During my MD training, I was involved in the management and immunomonitoring of cancer patients enrolled in clinical trials. The courage of these patients in the face of life’s challenges has taught me humility. It has made me eager to study, to learn, and to participate in the creation of a state-of-the-art translational research program devoted to investigating critical, yet unmet needs for cancer patients.

Supported by a Fellowship from the French National Cancer Institute, I joined Matthew Albert’s lab at the Pasteur Institute in Paris for a Masters/PhD program. I studied naïve T cells, which are the basis of any T cell response. I was fascinated by how much these cells vary in proportion and quality between individuals, as well as under disease conditions. This observation contrasts with the uniformity of our clinical practices, where we vaccinate all patients similarly, and triggered my awareness to the necessity of tailoring immunotherapy that takes into account inter-individual differences of the T cell repertoire at baseline.

With a profound commitment to the advancement of precision medicine, I joined the Labex Milieu Interieur Consortium, at the Institut Pasteur, headed by Lluis Quintana-Murci and Matthew Albert, for my postdoctoral training. I was fascinated by the idea that variations of the immune system between individuals could be exploited to identify general mechanisms of life, as well as to improve medicine. Using bioinformatic approaches, I studied the impact of history of infection with common pathogens, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) or herpes viruses, on our immune system. We demonstrated incredible diversity of the T cell compartment in the healthy state and the impact of common infections, such as CMV. It was an inspiring experience to be part of and to lead a team effort uniting people from different fields – geneticists, biologists, computer scientists, as well as people from different countries and continents, all with a common will to contribute to creating a strong foundation for precision medicine.

To be truly innovative though, I believe translational research must incorporate the rigor and expertise of basic science. For this reason, I was excited to join the laboratory of E. John Wherry at the University of Pennsylvania as a postdoctoral researcher in September 2017. The Wherry lab is a unique and incredible coalition of broad expertise that I am proud to be a part of. Lab members range from basic scientists to clinicians, all fascinated by T cells. My current work demonstrates skewing of the T cell compartment in the context of pancreatic cancer. As a Parker Bridge Scholar, I will extend this observation to other cancers and test the hypothesis that the inter-individual differences in antitumor responses is caused, at least partially, by the heterogeneity of the T cell compartment at baseline. Specifically, I will use a translational approach to examine latent infection with CMV, endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), and different cancer types as potential perturbations of the T cell compartment, contributing to the inter-individual heterogeneity in antitumor responses.

Together, my hope is to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical research with the aim to support the development of fundamental insights into disease, strategies for patient stratification, and therapeutic interventions. I’m excited to be part of the worldwide effort to break away from the uniformity of doing the same thing over and over, and instead, to create more effective, personalized immunotherapies for cancer patients.

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