Interview: Sandra Dovero

Sandra Dovero, a research engineer at IMN, has taken a new step by launching a histology platform. She tells us about her career and why she decided to offer her services to external projects.

Your career is a fine example for young people who are attracted by the world of research but don’t want to go on to long studies. Can you tell us about it?

I arrived in Bordeaux in April 1996, as a student in applied biology at the Université de Toulon et du Var. I came for my internship at the end of my “DUT” (a two year graduation after the baccalauréat). The opportunities offered by this diploma were mainly aimed at working in a medical analysis laboratory, but I had discovered the world of research during this course. That is why I directed my search for a placement towards specific Inserm and CNRS units throughout France where the theme was related to the possibility of translational research.

Bernard Bioulac, then director of his laboratory, gave me my first positive response to these requests, marking the start of my career as a contract technician in Christian Gross’s team. I then started working with Erwan Bézard, who had just started his thesis. As soon as I arrived, I was put in charge of developing the validation of a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease (MPTP model). During this validation, I developed all the neuroanatomy techniques, from the treatment of the animals to the quantitative analysis of the tissues.

In 1999, I passed the external competition for a CNRS Technician of Normal Status. The team’s needs in histology were growing, and I had to relocate my work to different laboratories that had the necessary equipment (cryostats, microscope coupled to a camera, etc.) before we could obtain the necessary funding to equip ourselves.

In 2007, I obtained a degree in biotechnology from the University of Bordeaux thanks to the support of the CNRS training unit. That same year, it was with great emotion that I passed another competitive examination to become a research engineer. This success was a major recognition of my commitment to my work, and I’ll never forget the moment when I saw my name on the results list!

I continued to work with Erwan Bezard, who then took over Christian Gross’ team before founding IMN. I took part in a project in Spain on a large cohort of baboons with Benjamin Dehay. This project gave rise to several publications, some of which are still in progress. I also had the opportunity to go to China on several occasions to train a team on site so that they could be autonomous in carrying out histological and quantitative studies. This collaboration has been extremely rewarding, allowing me to take part in a multitude of scientific projects, constantly pushing back the limits of my knowledge and skills.

Considering this experience, I decided to apply again for the CNRS internal competitive examinations to become a Research Engineer. The third attempt was the right one, and in 2018, once again my investment has been rewarded, and my skills recognised!

Today, and for the last 7 years, I’ve been helping candidates to prepare for the internal CNRS competitive entrance exams. It’s a job that’s very close to my heart!

You’ve just developed a histology platform called HistoCARE. How did it come about?

When we moved to the Centre Broca, where I was able to design a large part of the new technical platform in which I work, I realised that our team was not the only one with histology needs. So I started to think about pooling my activities within the laboratory. The structuring of a shared service open to the other teams in our unit therefore came about naturally. In 2017, I was lucky enough to start working with Nathalie Biendon, who was assigned full-time with me to this service, for which I spent part of my time sharing with my team.

In January 2021, when our unit was renewed, I offered to devote myself full-time with my colleague to managing this service, which I wanted to see evolve into a service delivery platform within the IMN. We first tested this idea on an activity that was solely internal to our unit, both to assess the activity and the real needs, but also to be able to structure our operations and define the scope of the services offered. This year, I started to receive requests from other teams in the Bordeaux Neurocampus community, as well as from outside. So I suggested to Thomas Boraud, the IMN’s current director, that we should structure ourselves as a service platform. The result is HistoCARE, the IMN’s histology platform, which is now open to the Bordeaux scientific community… and beyond.

What services would you like to offer through HistoCARE?

We now have the human resources (2 full-time statutory staff), the equipment (cryostats, vibratomes, various automated systems, various bright-field or fluorescence microscopy workstations, virtual slide scanners, off-line analysis workstations, etc.) and, above all, the expertise (I have more than 25 years’ experience in this field, and my colleague more than 10).

Within this platform, we offer services (carried out entirely in-house) for all or part of projects using histology techniques, mainly in the field of neuroscience, such as :
– Handling of tissue already removed
– Tissue sections
– IHC (brightfield and fluorescence)
– Staining
– Virtual slides and image analysis.

What makes our service offer special is our ability to manage large cohorts of virtually all species using routine techniques. Our pricing structure does not include any payroll costs, making our rates particularly attractive for academic laboratories.

My aim is to pool our knowledge and collaborate with different researchers, wherever they come from, to help them carry out their projects using all the possibilities offered by our skills in histology as part of a quality and continuous improvement approach. HistoCARE remains an IMN entity, so we prioritise requests from our institute. Of course, we remain vigilant to maintain a balance between demand and what we can offer: it is vital not to compromise the quality of our work or the health of our team.

I will shortly be opening a section of our intranet site to give a brief presentation of the site and the services we can offer. But before that, anyone can ">contact me!

Publication: 26/09/23
Last update 28/09/23