She uses a plant from Reunion Island to treat cancer

We met Anne-Laure Morel in her laboratory at the Cyclotron Réunion Océan Indien (CYROI), the biotech incubator at the Saint-Denis Technopole. Trained at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, this 36-year-old woman from Reunion Island fights against cancer every day in this incubator with pipettes and test tubes. Her ambition: to find an alternative to current treatments. In 2015, she created the start-up Torskal, a local flagship in the field of nano-medicine, to meet this ambition.

Gold nanoparticles

“We are pioneers in the design of green chemistry nano-medicines based on natural products,” explains the researcher, who was inspired by the work of Patrick Couvreur, the French specialist in medical nanotechnology. Currently tested on mice, Anne-Laure’s invention consists of injecting gold nanoparticles into a tumor and then irradiating them with infrared radiation. The heat release then destroys the cancerous cells without harming the rest of the body. The treatment is targeted, as opposed to chemotherapy, which attacks not only the tumor cells but also healthy cells and induces severe side effects. “Gold nanoparticles are biocompatible and low toxicity,” says the scientist.

In love with Reunion Island, where she grew up and where she returned after working for a few years in Paris, the thirty-year-old has found an essential ingredient in her treatment: ambaville. This medicinal plant, registered in the French pharmacopoeia, is well known to the “tisaneurs” of Reunion Island, who prescribe it as an infusion to treat skin or digestion problems. Anne-Laure Morel has taken up this grandmother’s remedy, but for a much more scientific use. “As a materials chemist, I took a fresh look at ambaville, which concentrates many antioxidant molecules. It serves as a bioreducer for making gold nanoparticles,” she explains.

The Reunion National Park, which has more than 1,600 native plant species, has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. “Our volcanic island is not only a tourist paradise, it is also a ‘hotspot’ of biodiversity and my work allows me to promote this” she says. Visit our website HERE