46: The UTC MS2T Labex* A recognised dynamic ‘excellence’ lab., to be fostered, long-term

UTC is host to and supports one of the 171 so-called Labex (see below) entities certified in the French Government’s Investments for the Future incentive Programme (2010). These sites are designated as bridgeheads for “excellence’ in French scientific and technological research, HE and valorisation activities, aimed at generally enhancing their international visibility and repute. This issue’s Dossier zooms in on the underlying challenges and main positive results and fallout.

46: The UTC MS2T Labex* A recognised dynamic ‘excellence’ lab., to be fostered, long-term

From the Labex programme to an ERC grant

Anne-Virginie Salsac, a CNRS research officer and her team at the UTC-BMBI (biomechanics & bio-engineering) Lab are investigating use of microcapsules (fluid droplets encapsulated in a fine, elastic membrane) to deliver medicinal drugs to a target zone (or organ) via the body’s bloodstream: the question is to determine how the envelope of the microcapsules is deformed due to the local forces of the blood stream, to determine also the mechanical properties needed for a capsule to rupture and release its active ingredient where desired, etc.? In other words, to see how the microcapsule membrane interacts with the internal and external fluids? Questions like these require that we compare and confront digital modelling and experimental work. 

Within the remit of the MS2T framework, research scientist Salsac has co-supervised two projects centred on this theme avec other research colleague at the UTC Roberval Lab.: firstly, a PhD thesis that enable the team to certify new digital modelling paradigms using the principle of model reduction and, secondly, postdoc work as a follow-on to the PhD. To complete this research, another thesis is under way on modelling of microcapsule damage phenomena and membrane rupture and soon a request will be addressed to the scientists at the UTC- LMAC Lab (applied maths), Compiegne.

“Without these skills and this collaboration, we simply would not be able to carry out such advanced research in digital modelling”, underscores Anne-Virginie Salsac. “The strength of the Labex configuration is that it enabled us to develop our interdisciplinary dynamics. Indeed, its existence and work are structuring also for UTC, as are the programmes financially supported by the Hauts-de-Fran Regional authorities, inasmuch as it forced us to collaborate with other research centres and with industrialist located on the Region. Moreover, the various projects on microcapsules financially supported by the Labex and by the Region have provided leverage to help us advance even further”.

In 2017, Anne-Virginie Salsac was the first UTC research officer to receive a grant from the European Research Council (ERC), where the unique criterion for the grant is the scientific “excellence” of the projects proposed. The financing takes the form of a 5 year package and in this instance will serve to pursue research on microcapsules initiated not only within the MS2T framework but also in a thesis on encapsulated antioxidants, financed by the Hauts-de-France Region and co-supervised between the UTC-BMBI Lab. (biomechanics and bio-engineering) and the UTC-GEC Lab (enzyme and cell engineering). “Thanks to these ongoing research investigations, we have been able to bring to maturity a totally interdisciplinary project compliant with the prerequisites of the ERC programme, which presupposes that the research team goes beyond the frontiers of science and proposes some very innovative, yet realistic, ideas”.

It is indeed a project that involves – over and above external collaborative agreements – five UTC laboratories: UTC-BMBI (biomechanics and bio-engineering), UTC-Roberval and UTC-LMAC (applied maths), to pursue and extend basic research on microencapsulation, and also UTC-GEC (enzyme and cell engineering) and UTC-TIMR (integrated transformation of renewable matter) with the objective of attaining encapsulation of naturally anticancer substances, viz., the antioxidants, in the form of a food supplement.