Understanding the mechanisms of movement disorders

Parkinson’s disease affects almost 100,000 people in France, with 8,000 new cases recorded each year. Louise-Laure Mariani is a young mother and doctor attached to the Department of Neurology at the Saint-Antoine Hospital, future Chef de Clinique at the Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital in Paris. Her research focuses on the molecular mechanisms of the side-effects of L-DOPA, the gold standard drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease. She tells us about her job, her research and the challenges of being a woman scientist in France.

What aspects of your job do you particularly like?


The constant reappraisal, the new questions raised by each discovery, the excitement of understanding how the brain works and of obtaining a new result. The feeling of being useful that comes from my research being applied to real situations and from doing my bit to contribute to the global human knowledge. I also like teaching and passing on my knowledge.


What are the short-term and long-term implications and applications of your research for science and society?


For science: understanding the pathophysiological processes that occur in neurodegenerative and movement disorders, and the physiological functioning of the brain and structures involved in generating normal movement. For society: coming to a better understanding of Parkinson’s disease and its treatment. As for applications: discovering new ways of treating the disease and, more broadly, other neurodegenerative and movement disorders like Huntington’s disease, cerebellar ataxia, etc.


Have you encountered any particular problems as a woman in your career? Looking around you, do you think it's difficult for women to be scientists?


The main problem is still pregnancy and maternity leave, which doesn’t affect men. It forces women to organize or even adapt their careers, for which they get no help.


Personally speaking, I wasn’t paid by any of my employers (AP-HP, Inserm) during my maternity leave. In addition, by law both men and women are only allowed a certain length of time between the end of their residencyand taking up a position as a Chef de Clinique, and if you take maternity leave during that period, tough, you’re not granted any extension!


Other countries are more egalitarian in this respect. The Swedish system, for example, allows for 300 days’ combined maternity/paternity leave shared between the man and the woman. In France paternity leave is only 14 days!


How do you plan to combine your scientific and medical careers?


My scientific and medical careers complete each other in essential ways. Over time, I have realized that they provide two different approaches to the same problems and feed off each other, bringing a necessary balance.


Louise-Laure Mariani received a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship in 2014.


L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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