Doctor Valerie Legout has been the Jérôme Lejeune Institute’s international development director since spring 2013. In the Letter of the Foundation she gives its readers an insight on her career, her beliefs and her scientific views.
Doctor, what has your professional experience been up to now?
I was trained as a general practitioner and I am therefore deeply concerned with clinical issues. This is why, to my sense, the purpose of all research must be the patient’s benefit. It is what constantly guides me.
For years I have been working on molecule development and especially on the central nervous system, i.e., on pathologies related to the brain such as depression, Alzheimer, Parkinson, strokes, etc. In this broad field of diseases, I focus more precisely on rare genetic diseases which are presently untreatable. I have made available a product to treat memory impairment, product which I also put forward for its effectiveness in relieving children suffering from a very serious muscular pathology of genetic origin, untreatable until then.
It was the fruit of cooperation for the benefit of the patients that enabled the discovery of the unexpected effectiveness of the treatment on this illness. I have always promotes interactions between research teams because research can only be a result of horizontal collaboration.
What motivated your decision to be part of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation?
Down Syndrome as all the other genetic mental diseases are clearly what one would call a “non covered medical need”. The emergency to answer that particular need is well-known. For various reasons, research on these diseases is unfortunately forgotten by the public authorities and by consequent not valued in particular by the scientists. The Jérôme Lejeune Foundation, first in the world in terms of budget devoted to therapeutic research in this field seemed the best structure for me to play my part in. I gladly provide my expertise in molecule development, setting up of industrial processing and my knowledge of the central nervous system, the brain naturally being in the center of intellectual deficiency issues.
What exactly is your responsibility within the Foundation?
I am responsible for a newly created post. I am the international research and development director. My mission is to coordinate the whole of the research work in France, Europe and in the United States and develop synergy between the different teams. It is, indeed, essential to work with all the teams which have the same goals by setting up partnerships.
It is what is called “translational” research. I really insist on that because I believe the more brains there are working together, the more chances there are of succeeding!
Do you believe it will be possible to treat Down syndrome one day?
Yes, I am intimately convinced that we can improve the cognitive capacities of people with Down syndrome … otherwise I wouldn’t be here! With the foundation, the Institute and all the scientists joining us, we want to find a way to enable the patients to better interact with their environment. We thus improve their quality of life and their well being. More than just having an impact on the patients and their families, it will, of course, be a benefit for the community. It is not a matter of health for the sake of it: it is health for the person and for society!