PORTRAIT: Amandine Viau, tenacity in the service of science

Amandine Viau is a researcher in the laboratory of hereditary renal diseases. She has just been awarded the Inserm competition for the position of normal class research officer (CRCN). A recognition for this scientist who is as passionate as she is tenacious and dynamic. A look back at her career.

Published on 03.11.2022

Imagine Institute

It is one of those moments that determine a career. We are in the early 2000s. Tour Lavoisier, on the campus of the Hôpital Necker-Enfants malades, Amandine Viau was working on restriction maps of the COL4A5 gene (collagen gene) as part of her master's degree in genetics. That morning, her tutor, Laurence Heidet, a pediatric nephrologist, stormed into the laboratory.

Photo Amandine Viau
Photo Amandine Viau © Amandine

"She had just had an epiphany in the subway," recalls the researcher. "She didn't bother to take off her coat and asked me to test a hypothesis on the involvement of COL4A5 in a hereditary kidney disease: Alport syndrome, which affects Polynesian families in particular. This hypothesis was validated by the identification of a mutation in this gene!  It was an unforgettable experience to attend and participate in a moment of discovery like this. From that moment on, I was hooked.

This internship was a trigger for the student whose dynamic nature echoes the effervescence of the laboratory and the energetic personality of Laurence Heidet. It was therefore quite natural for her to turn towards research in genetics. In M1, she opted for an internship in Italy where she worked on zebrafish. Then she joined the Bichat hospital in the team of Fabiola Terzi (current director of the INEM) in DEA.



It was 2004 and digital tools were in their infancy. PubMed, a powerful online search engine used daily by researchers, did not yet exist. "There were computerized tools but they were much slower and we didn't have access to all the journals. You still had to order paper articles from the library," she recalls. This period was also the beginning of transcriptomics and Amandine took advantage of this new technique. "I was thus able to identify a molecule that was overexpressed very early in chronic renal failure: lipocalin 2."

Discovery of a protein involved in renal failure

This discovery piqued her curiosity and encouraged her to pursue her research. It was decided that she would continue her investigations as part of a thesis in the same laboratory. "I was thus able to show that not only is this protein a marker of kidney lesions, but it also plays an active role in the progression of these lesions".

However, this result required validation. A scientist at heart, Amandine Viau decided to delay her thesis defense in order to complete her investigations and publish a complete result. In fact, a decisive step was missing: the validation of the role of lipocalin 2 in animals. "I absolutely wanted to finish this before starting a post-doc. I didn't want someone else to finalize this work that I had started. You could say that I preferred to do good science rather than think about my career," she smiles.

It was an unforgettable experience to attend and participate in a moment of discovery like this. From that moment on, I was hooked  

Amandine Viau , Chargée de recherche Inserm

Departure to Freiburg, Germany

In 2009, she defended her thesis and published her results in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. After her thesis, she continued as a post-doc in the same laboratory. "But I still lacked the international experience that is essential in the life of a researcher. I had several options: the West Coast of the United States, Toronto... But I finally opted for Wolfgang Kühn's laboratory in Freiburg, Germany". She packed up in 2012 and found a certain Matias Simons, former research director at Institut Imagine

Amandine Viau intends to increase her skills and wishes to master cell culture in a flow chamber. She is also developing mouse models of renal ciliopathies. The researcher particularly appreciates the organization of the laboratory where the presence of engineers and technicians completely relieves her of logistical and technical aspects, which allows her to concentrate on the essential: science. "I also really appreciated the freedom I had to conduct my research. The director of the laboratory gave us a lot of autonomy and encouraged women to play a greater role in research"

Then it was back to France. In 2016, Amandine obtained a grant from the Fondation de la Recherche Médicale and returned to the laboratory of her first post-doc in order to implement flow culture and offer her expertise on the mouse models developed in Germany. By chance, she created a mouse model of nephronophthisis, a hereditary kidney disease affecting the primary cilium, a kind of antenna present on the surface of most of our cells, on which Sophie Saunier, current director of the laboratory of hereditary kidney diseases at the Imagine Institute, was working, and she got in touch with the researcher.

Back to the roots

A few months after the end of her FRM contract, in 2019, she contacts Sophie Saunier again. The planets aligned. "It was the right time because she lacked an experienced researcher and wanted to develop mouse models of nephronophthisis. So she joined the Imagine Institute where she launched herself into a competition. She aimed for a position as an Inserm research fellow. But places are hard to come by and the first two attempts were not the right ones. It would be easy to lose interest, but that's not the house style. You have to hang in there," says Amandine. That's one of my qualities: tenacity.

In June 2022, the tide turned and she passed the competitive examination for the position of Chargée de recherche de classe normale (CRCN). For the researcher, this was a relief, but above all a recognition and an essential condition for doing good research. "From now on, I'm going to take the time to push the investigations to get the papers higher, to get them published in the best journals," she says. The next step? Passing the habilitation to direct research (HDR), hiring a post-doc, and creating a mouse model that has genetic and biological characteristics very similar to those found in patients suffering from nephronophthisis. This will validate the effectiveness of promising molecules in this disease. The road is thus paved. And it has come full circle, since nearly twenty years later Amandine confirmed the trial in the laboratory where she was born.