Fellows Feature: Laure Fresard

Laure Fresard picLaure Fresard is a 2015-16 CEHG Fellow and a postdoctoral scholar in Stanford’s Pathology Department. Her research has focused on RNA analysis in chickens and humans. Her faculty sponsor is Dr. Stephen Montgomery. She received her Master of Science degree from the Universite De Rennes in 2011 and her Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Universite Paul Sabatier in 2014.

This content has been drafted from an interview that took place on Thursday, October 15, 2015 with CEHG’s Director of Programs, Cody Montana Sam.

Current Research 

Broadly speaking, Laure summarizes her current research interests as an exploration of genetic influence on fine regulation of specific phenotypes. Her particular interests are studying how genetic variations can impact gene expression. Her motivation in pursuing this research is to understand more fully what we, as human beings, are, how our environment shapes our phenotypes, and how we can positively understand and interact with our essential nature.

Still new to the world of human genomics, she has so far found the transition from studying chickens to humans to be both interesting and rewarding. She clarifies the difference between them in the following terms:

“In animal genomics, we are trying to feed the world whereas in human genetics, we are trying to heal the world.”

Because both approaches are invaluable and essential, Laure believes we need to find innovative ways of combining them and, thus, moving our research forward.

In the Montgomery lab, her research specifically focuses on analyzing thousands of human transcriptomes from several RNA-sequenced cohorts in order to identify the biology and phenotypic impacts of rare variants that influence gene expression and rare diseases. Many of these cohorts now have whole genome-sequencing data available, providing scientists with a unique opportunity to develop and test methods that identify rare causal variants and directly measure the transcriptional and network-based impacts of these variants. Furthermore, the availability of hundreds of measured traits in several of these cohorts will provide an exceptional opportunity to test specific rare variants for their roles in both complex and rare diseases.

The fundamental biological questions Laure aims to address throughout the course of this research are as follows:

  • Which genes do rare variants impact?
  • What properties distinguish large from small effects?
  • What mechanisms are involved?
  • What are the impacts on gene regulatory networks?
  • What is the genomic context of rare causal variants?
  • And what is the expression signature of genes in different tissues?

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Backstory: The Origins of a Scientist 

The beginning of Laure’s interest in science can be traced all the way back to her middle school years in France, when she would return home from her science classes, fascinated by topics of study like the Mendel peas, and the logic behind them, and talk about it with her parents all night long. Since very young, she was driven by observing things around her and understanding their natures. Middle school introduced her to genetics, which quickly became her primary subject of interest.

Laure’s parents were extremely supportive of her process of self-discovery. They encouraged her to follow her passion and do what she likes. She considered becoming a veterinarian at one point, but soon realized that her love of research in classes drove her to learn as much as she could about how to asking a question and then how to answer it.

This path led Laure to study agronomy sciences during her undergraduate years, also in France, and then to eventually focus her scholarly attention in graduate school on animal genomics research. It was during her years as a Masters and then doctoral student at the Universite de Rennes and then the Universite Paul Sabatier that she first fell in love with new sequencing technologies and the exciting world of bioinformatics. Her graduate work, deciphering uncommon events that could impact phenotypic variability in chickens, was made possible by the availability of such technologies. She focused mainly on genomic imprinting and RNA editing, which had never before been investigated at the genomic scale in this species.

It was Laure’s love of working with RNA, and looking for rare events that could have a significant impact on other phenotypes, that led her to apply to Dr. Stephen Montgomery’s lab as a postdoctoral scholar. The Montgomery Lab was already working in similar areas of research, so her admittance as a lab postdoc provided her with an invaluable opportunity to pursue her interests in animal genomics in greater depth.

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Community Support and Acknowledgements

The Montgomery Lab has been an incredible source of support for Laure as she pursues her postdoctoral research. Stephen, in particular, has been extremely supportive of her ideas and her desire to take on new projects. She describes him as a great P.I. who is always eager to make things happen for his lab members. He is always available for his postdocs to share ideas and receive feedback and he has proven to be successful in promoting their work and helping them to forge external connections that will strengthen their present and future research.

Laure is also enjoying the networking opportunities working on Stanford campus affords her on a daily basis. When thinking about her postdoc experience at Stanford, she states that it is easy to meet and interact with people here. You simply knock on the door next to yours and start a great discussion with your fellow lab members. In this way, she says her research experience has been “amplified.” She also appreciates the proximity of other research institutions in the Bay Area, such as the University of California, San Francisco and San Francisco State, to name just a few, and also industry centers that constantly expose her to new ideas every day. Stanford and the Bay Area give Laure the sense of moving forward.

Currently interested in building networks with other postdoc groups on campus and off, Laure is hopeful that CEHG will provide her with opportunities to meet new people, establish new partnerships, and make new friendships. And she is in luck! During the 2015-16 school year, CEHG will host a series of social events for community members, including: a holiday party and a CEHG retreat in summer 2016. Details will be made available as soon as possible on the CEHG website.

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Looking Forward

In twenty years, Laure’s main object is to seek out and find a place where she can do the research she loves. She is open-minded about whether this means she will end up working in academia, in her own or someone else’s research lab, or in industry, where there is also great opportunity. The important thing to Laure is that that she will continue to ask questions and find their answers.

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Laure’s advice for other postdocs and student scientists

“Try. Don’t censor yourself before trying.”

“All doors can be opened if you knock at the right place at the right moment.”

“You can learn so much by getting to know new people, new cultures, and new ways of thinking by going to another country.”

 

 

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