Mathilde Gauchier winner 2020 Bettencourt Foundation young researchers



On 30 November 2020, the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation awarded its scientific prizes to 20 researchers whose work contributes to the progress of scientific knowledge with the aim of improving human health. The total endowment of these prizes amounts to nearly 2 million euros. 

Through four annual prizes, the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation supports and encourages researchers and their teams at key moments in their careers: the Liliane Bettencourt Prize for Life Sciences, the Bettencourt Prize for French Research, the endowment of the ATIP-Avenir programme and the Bettencourt Prize for young researchers.  

- The 2020 winner of the Liliane Bettencourt Prize for Life Sciences is Salvador Aznar Benitah, Professor at the Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) and head of the "Stem Cells and Cancer" team at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) in Barcelona (Spain). His work on the link between dietary fats and the spread of certain cancerous tumours could contribute to the development of new anti-metastatic therapies.  

- The 4 winners of the 2020 Bettencourt Prize "Coups d'élan pour la recherche française" are 

o Cécile Charrier, Inserm Research Fellow at the Institute of Biology of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, for her research project on mutations that alter the development and plasticity of synapses in humans.  

o Susana Coelho, Director of Research at the CNRS, Laboratory of Integrative Biology of Marine Models, at the Roscoff Biological Station, for her research project on the evolution of sex and reproduction systems based on the study of brown algae. 

o Marie Manceau, Director of Research at the CNRS at the Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en biologie, Collège de France in Paris, for her project on the genetic mechanisms of the formation of plumage patterns in birds. 

o Nicolas Minc, Director of Research at the CNRS, at the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris, for his project on the mechanisms governing the spatial organisation of the cell during cell divisions.  

- The 2020 winner of the ATIP-Avenir programme is Paul Conduit, Research Fellow at the CNRS, Institut Jacques Monod in Paris, for his work on the mechanisms of formation and organisation of the cytoskeleton in neurons. 

- The 14 winners of the 2020 Bettencourt Prize for Young Researchers are rewarded for their post-doctoral research projects that open the way to new discoveries in the life sciences.  

The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation's main commitment is scientific sponsorship, which has accounted for almost half of its donations, with 224.8 million euros since 1990. With the 2020 edition of the scientific prizes, the Foundation has now rewarded 450 winners. 

"This particular year reminds us more than ever that human health is our most precious common asset. And the life sciences are essential for advancing knowledge, understanding and understanding of the mechanisms related to health and the environment. There is no future without progress in scientific research.  

We are pleased to be able, at our level, to provide long-term support to the men and women who, with their passion and talent, are experimenting and developing hypotheses to meet the major challenges facing us. Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, Founder and President of the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation. 



This prize is awarded to a French or European researcher under 45 years of age, recognised by the scientific community, with a particularly promising project and whose qualities enable him or her to mobilise a team (amount of the prize: €300,000). 

Salvador Aznar Benitah, Biomedicine Research Institute, Barcelona

"Cancer and ageing: dietary fats in the spotlight  

Salvador Aznar Benitah and his team are interested in the mechanisms that regulate adult stem cells and the reasons for their dysfunction during ageing and cancer. In particular, they are looking at how these distantly related cells coordinate their function in the body: what systemic signals are involved? Researchers are studying the deregulation of metabolic pathways that control stem cells, to understand how they contribute to the regression or, on the contrary, to the progression of tumours. In oncology, Salvador Aznar Benitah focuses on the behaviour of metastases, proliferations of cancer cells outside their tissue of origin. The researcher and his team have identified a protein marker that, by facilitating the absorption of the fats that cancer cells need to move around the body, allows them to proliferate. They were thus able to establish a direct relationship between the consumption of certain fats, such as palmitic acid, and the formation of metastases: a diet too rich in saturated fats is a proven risk factor for cancer progression. This discovery could pave the way for new anti-metastatic therapies. Salvador has set up a start-up company to develop innovative treatments to combat the ability of metastatic cells to absorb fat. The Liliane Bettencourt Prize for Life Sciences will enable him to further his research into metastasis and how diet affects its behaviour. 


This prize is awarded to four French public laboratories of the CNRS and Inserm and allows the improvement of infrastructures and working conditions of researchers (amount of the prize: €250,000). 

Cécile Charrier, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris  

"Why is the human brain unique? 

Cécile Charrier and her team are seeking to understand why the great plasticity of synapses between neurons is specific to humans: what mutations have led to this human specificity that allows us to process a large amount of information? With a multidisciplinary approach - at the crossroads of cell biology, evolution and neuroscience - Cécile Charrier's team is using sequencing methods to identify at the genetic level the genes responsible for these mutations in the human brain. In particular, the researchers are studying the mutations that can lead to an alteration in neuronal plasticity and therefore to certain specific pathologies such as autism or intellectual disability. The Foundation's support will enable them to equip a laboratory with L2 containment level, which is essential for their research, and to acquire a fluorescence microscope for this new work space. 

Susana Coelho, Roscoff Biological Station 

"Understanding the evolution of reproductive systems thanks to the biodiversity of brown algae  

Susana and her team are interested in the origin and evolution of the sexes and reproductive systems in brown algae. This work allows us to better understand the biology and evolutionary history of this important but poorly characterised group and, beyond that, to understand the evolution of sexual reproduction in all of life. Thanks to her expertise in algal biodiversity, Susana Coelho addresses these fundamental developmental issues and their genomic, ecological and evolutionary implications by combining genetics, molecular evolutionary tools and bioinformatics. In the long term, mastering the reproductive cycle of non-domesticated algae will be a powerful vector for biotechnologies in the fields of nutrition, medicine, cosmetics and the fight against global warming. The Bettencourt Coups d'élan pour la recherche française prize will enable Susana Coelho to acquire the scientific equipment needed to create the world's first phenotyping platform specially designed for algae.  

Marie Manceau, Collège de France, Paris  

"The enigma of bird plumage: genetics to the rescue 

Marie Manceau and her team are pioneers in the study of the evolution of plumage patterns in birds. They are working to understand why these patterns vary so much from one species to another and how they are arranged from embryonic tissue. To achieve this, Marie Manceau and her team are testing mathematical models to theoretically reproduce the dynamics of the establishment of these different geometries. By comparing the phenotypes of different avian species, their aim is to find common themes in the variation and to identify signals that may play a role in the formation of feather bud patterns. Marie Manceau and her team are responsible for important discoveries, particularly with regard to the formation of the periodic colour stripes that adorn the plumage of chicks. The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation Prize will finance the acquisition of a confocal microscope: a cutting-edge technology that is crucial for imaging the skin cells of bird embryos in vivo.  

Nicolas Minc, Institut Jacques Monod, Paris 

"Studying the spatial organisation of the cell to better understand the sophistication of living organisms 

Nicolas Minc and his team are seeking to understand the fundamental mechanisms of cell division and its spatial organisation during embryogenesis, a process common to all animals, whether invertebrates or humans, which defines their shape, polarity and cell fate. The team is studying cell divisions following the fertilisation of sea urchin eggs, which produce gametes in very large quantities and whose analysis therefore makes it possible to obtain robust and quantitative results. The originality of Nicolas Minc's approach to predicting cell behaviour lies in the combined use of concepts from physics, tools from fundamental biology and applied mathematics. To study the biomechanical mechanisms involved, Nicolas Minc and his team inject electromagnetic beads into the cell and measure the forces exerted by the microtubules to move the egg or cell nucleus. The team's work is contributing to research on cancer, a pathology that results from a deregulation of cell division or shape. The Bettencourt Coups d'élan pour la recherche française prize will enable Nicolas Minc to acquire a two-photon confocal microscope that will enrich the Institut Jacques Monod's imaging platform. 


Since 2005, in partnership with Inserm and the CNRS, the ATIP-Avenir programme has rewarded a young researcher with a high-quality project who wishes to create his or her own team in France (amount of the grant: €300 000). 

Paul Conduit, Institut Jacques Monod, Paris 

"Understanding changes in the cell skeleton in normal and pathological neurons 

Paul Conduit and his team are working on the microtubule, one of the essential components of the cytoskeleton. Microtubules play a very important role in cell division and cytoplasmic transport through cooperation with actin microfilaments. Among other things, they regulate the movement of chromosomes during cell division. In neurons, a disturbance in microtubule function can be linked to various neurological diseases. The processes of microtubule assembly and organisation in neurons are not yet known, nor is their evolution during neurodegeneration. Using a combination of genetics, imaging and computer modelling, Paul Conduit's team is seeking to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that regulate microtubule formation and organisation. This work could lead to a better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of neuronal development and their modification in certain human neurological diseases. The ATIP-Avenir grant will enable him to set up his team, strengthen it with the recruitment of a post-doctoral fellow and equip his laboratory. 


This prize rewards 14 young doctors in science or doctors in science and medicine at the beginning of their career, to enable them to carry out their post-doctoral research stay abroad (amount of the prize: €25,000). 

Karen Aymonnier, "Shedding light on blood cell interactions: the promise of new therapeutic approaches 

Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA 

Romain Bourboulou, "The hippocampus, circumstantial complement of place? 
University College of London, United Kingdom  

Roman Chabanon, "New therapeutic approaches to stimulate immunity against certain cancers" Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK 
Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK

Lise Dauban, "The organisation of the genome: what if we put some order in it?  
Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 

Nicolas Doll, "Seed cell death, a factor in agronomic progress 
Center for Plant Systems Biology, Ghent, Belgium

Tiphaine Douanne, "Identifying immune defence mechanisms for innovation in cancer research 
Cambridge Institute of Medical Research, UK 

Gautier Follain, "Pancreatic cancer: acting on cells to block metastasis  
Turku Biosciences Centre, Finland 

Mathilde Gauchier, "Understanding how repeated DNA sequences modify genome activity 
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, USA

Alicia Lardennois, "Coordinating cell movements: a communication story? 
Institute for Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany 

Maxime Maheu, "Algorithms, mice and humans: at the heart of learning mechanisms 
University Medical Center, Hamburg, Germany 

Benoit de Pins, "Global warming: biochemistry at the planet's bedside 
Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel

Bernard Srour, "Lifestyle as a predictor of longevity? 
German Cancer Research Centre, Heidelberg, Germany 

Mateusz Trylinski, "Deciphering the process of organ formation during animal development 
University College London and Cambridge, UK 

Simon Ville, "Understanding the mechanisms of rejection in kidney transplantation 
Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Cambridge, UK 

About the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation  

"Giving wings to talent 

The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation strives to embody the will of a family, driven by the spirit of enterprise and awareness of its social role, to reveal talents and help them go further.  

It devotes its time and energy to selecting, supporting and promoting people who are imagining tomorrow's world today, in three fields that make a concrete contribution to the common good: life sciences, the arts and solidarity.  

True to its philanthropic spirit, it awards prizes and supports projects through donations and highly personalised support.  

Since its creation in the late 1980s, it has awarded 590 prizes and supported more than 1,000 projects led by talented individuals, teams, associations and organisations. 

As part of its commitment to the life sciences, the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation awards its scientific prizes every year. Through its donation programme, it is involved in the creation of university courses and research chairs, in integration through learning about science and in public outreach. It supports sustainable programmes for the renovation of laboratories and the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment.  

For more information, visit | Twitter : @Fondation_BS | Instagram : @fondationbettencourtschueller | Facebook: @BettencourtSchuellerFoundation | #TalentFondationBettencourt. 


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