Marine Luka, Engineer for the immunology and medicine of tomorrow

One question has fascinated Marine Luka since the beginning of her career: understanding how the human body works and how it reacts to a problem. It was therefore quite natural that she quickly turned to research, biology and immunology. As engineer at Institut Imagine for nearly five years, she took on many challenges by joining the brand new research team "Inflammatory responses and transcriptomic networks in diseases" created and directed by Mickaël Ménager in 2017, and by setting up with him a new platform dedicated to a revolutionary technology for understanding diseases, the single-cell.

Published on 27.06.2022

Imagine Institute

Solving the mysteries of biology

While she was studying for her professional degree, her first internship at the Cochin Institute convinced Marine that her future lay in a laboratory and that she wanted to contribute to research. Her favourite field will be immunology as it raises many biological questions about the functioning of our body and our cells which intrigue Marine. She is particularly interested in the variety of reactions to what is identified as a threat by our body.

At the end of her studies, Marine decided to become an engineer. "As an engineer, we can see many things and discover new areas of research more easily. Whereas a researcher will be focused on his or her field, we are experts in our techniques and skills, and we can adapt to several research subjects". Before joining Institut Imagine, Marine worked on meiosis in yeast at Institut Curie, and on neurodegenerative diseases at Institut Cochin.

Getting involved in building a research team

In 2017, wishing to return to immunology, Marine responded to an advertisement for an IE position from a young researcher who had returned from the United States, Mickaël Ménager, who was in the process of creating his ATIP Avenir Inserm research team at the Institut Imagine. This new team is based on the researcher's cross-disciplinary experience between immunology, virology and cell biology, and on a certainty: the immune system must be approached by analysing, in the most precise way possible, the cells that are its armed wing and their diversity. The team's objective is to explore the complexity of the immune response and auto-inflammation, at the level of the single cell.

Convinced by this approach, Marine embarks on the adventure. She participated fully in the construction of the team. "In addition to the research theme, what was exciting was being able to write the first pages together and lay the foundations of this team. Setting up and defining our rules was a real challenge. The three of us built everything together and everyone was really able to bring their ideas and contribute to the growth of the team. It wasn't always easy but we learned a lot and acquired many skills". In addition to her job as an engineer, Marine is also responsible for L2, the HSE relay for the Institute, and provides support for all the team's projects, a bit like a lab manager, which gives her an overall vision and has enabled her to see all the projects grow.

Setting up and developing the single-cell

As soon as it was created, Mickaël Ménager's team began to implement single-cell technology. The idea is to establish a functional map of interactions and connections between cells based on the expression of genes collected in each blood cell. By comparing the cellular identity cards of different patients, it could be possible to discover commonalities between pathologies and choose appropriate treatments. "This technique revolutionises the way we study diseases, we can find out which cell or mechanism is responsible for it. Single-cell analysis has a great impact, it answers many biological questions and opens many doors. It can contribute a lot to the understanding of genetic diseases and their diagnosis".

Setting up the technology was a real challenge. We had to prove the concept of this very expensive technique and convince people of its interest before we could set up the LabTech Single-Cell@Imagine platform, directed by Mickaël Ménager, of which Marine is the engineer. "We first conducted several experiments in our team on autoimmune diseases, then on other pathologies with the institute's various laboratories. The demand is exponential, many teams are interested in single-cell research, both at the Institute and in France".

Marine is very involved in supporting the research projects of the teams that use the platform. "In addition to our technical and analytical skills, we have an important role in advising the teams. With experience, we are now able to know whether the single-cell will really contribute something to their research project".

And while this new role in a service platform may have been disconcerting for Marine at first, the experience has been rewarding. "In research, you know what you are doing and where you want to go, which is not always the case as an engineer on a platform. You bring a technical skill, and the research teams bring scientific knowledge. This allows me to discover other areas of research, to understand what the teams are looking for, why and how. There is a very important aspect for me, which is to know what we have been able to contribute and help to find.”

Today, the team to which Marine belongs is at a turning point in its history. After five years spent exploring new avenues of research, building new hypotheses and concepts, scientific publications and thesis defences are to come, with new pages to write. "Great things are in store for the future, and I want to be part of it," concludes Marine.