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Laureate of the 2009 ATIP-avenir program


Boosting immunity to malaria and toxoplasmosis

Nicolas Blanchard is studying how the immune system responds to intracellular eukaryotic parasites in order to develop vaccines.

Around a third of the world’s population is potentially affected by Plasmodium spp., the agent of malaria. Like its cousin Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis, this intracellular parasite provokes an immune response in CD8+ lymphocytes. These white cells are also called “killer T cells” due to their ability to directly destroy target cells. To mature and carry out this task, they need to meet a specific part of the intruding microorganism: the antigen.

With the support of the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, Nicolas Blanchard has created a team at the Center for Physiopathology of Toulouse-Purpan, aiming to fill in the general lack of knowledge of Plasmodium and Toxoplasma antigens. Without characterizing natural antigens, it is impossible to develop vaccines. Moreover, Plasmodium and Toxoplasma parasites are eukaryotes or cells that contain a nucleus, and their immune response is even less understood than in bacteria.

The research carried out by Dr. Blanchard’s team has four objectives: to understand how white blood cells process Toxoplasma antigens, to clarify the links between parasitic polymorphism and immunity, to examine in vivo the induction of white blood cells specifically created to destroy parasites, and to evaluate the feasibility of protein vaccines for toxoplasmosis.



From the start of his career, Nicolas Blanchard has been interested in the different aspects of antigen recognition by T lymphocytes. His PhD at the Curie Institute led him to study the immunological synapses formed between T cells and antigen-presenting cells, which are essential points of contact for setting off the adaptive immune response. Dr. Blanchard furthered his expertise during his postdoctoral fellowship, deciphering the mechanisms by which immune cells react to antigens. In particular, he discovered the first natural Toxoplasma gondii antigen able to induce an immune response in cytoxic T cells (CD8+). He has also revealed that enzyme processing of this antigen in lymphocytes is critical to activate immunity to the parasite. These discoveries have laid the foundations for developing vaccines for toxoplasmosis and malaria.


  • 1999Engineering diploma, Ecole Polytechnique, Palaiseau (France)
  • 2000Master’s degree in Basic and Clinical Immunology, Paris Descartes University (France)
  • 2004PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Immunology, Paris Descartes University (France)
  • 2004 - 2009Postdoctoral fellowship supervised by Nilabh Shastri, University of California, Berkeley (United States)
  • 2009Laureate of the ATIP-Avenir at CNRS and Inserm in partnership with the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation
  • Since 2010Principal Investigator at Inserm, leader of the “eukaryotic intracellular parasites: immunity and chemoresistance” Avenir-ATIP team, Center for Physiopathology of Toulouse-Purpan (France)