Three Minute Thesis: HMR PhD student will represent UdeM in the finals

Stefanie_Valbon_etudiante_Centre de recherche HMR

A student from Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont (HMR) won the Université de Montréal science outreach competition, Three Minute Thesis. Discover this student with a real passion about our immune system.

Stefanie Valbon is a PhD student in Dr. Heather Melichar’s lab at the Research center of the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont and is working towards her PhD in microbiology and immunology at the Université de Montréal. Thanks to her victory in the Three Minute Thesis contest, she will represent the university in the finals in November.

Passionate about science and immunology

It is no coincidence that Stefanie performed so well in the competition. Indeed, she regularly talks about her research and her fascination with science in her blog, ImmunoThoughts.

I am passionate about science, and I love to talk about it! It is important to me that we understand how our body works.Stefanie Valbon, first prize winner, Three Minute Thesis 2021

New insights on T cells: the defenders of our body

As part of the competition, Stefanie showcased her thesis in a presentation entitled ‘Please Be Tolerant’. Her thesis research focuses on the behaviour of a type of immune cells, called T cells, which defend our body from infection.

“Imagine that you are at war. You can spot the enemy since they are wearing different colors from yours. But what if some of your friends are wearing the enemy’s color? How would you differentiate your friends from your enemy? Our body must always be able detect this difference in order to protect itself against intruders (viruses, bacteria, cancer) and cooperate with our own cells”, says Stefanie at the outset of her presentation.

Indeed, certain cells of the immune system, the T cells, have a receptor that allows them to recognize abnormal cells. The T cells must attack only bad cells (infected or cancerous cells) and should not attack healthy cells in our body. This is called T cell tolerance. Unfortunately, sometimes our T cells are not tolerant, and they attack our own organs.

This is what causes many autoimmune diseases, such as certain forms of diabetes, where our immune system destroys our own body and creates a deficiency.

With my thesis, I am trying to further understand T cell tolerance. Why do T cells sometimes attack us?Stefanie Valbon

Innovative research that brings hope

Although her thesis studies the specific behaviour of T cells, it may hold promise for autoimmune diseases.

“This is a baseline study, but it is by compiling several such studies that teams of researchers will ultimately develop treatments,” says Stefanie.

Dre Heather Melichar

Dr. Heather Melichar

Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont: A breeding ground for tomorrow’s specialists

Stefanie joined the laboratory of Dr. Heather Melichar, whose research unit is focussing on the mechanisms of immunology oncology, in September 2020.

Before arriving at the HMR Research Centre, Stefanie received one of the recruitment scholarships offered by the HMR Foundation. In fact, each year, four scholarships are awarded to students who come to enrich their knowledge and improve their skills with one of the Research Centre’s renowned teams.


I chose the HMR because I wanted to be part of Dr. Melichar’s team! In addition to being a valuable research community, I have access to highly qualified help and state-of-the-art equipment to develop my skills.Stefanie Valbon

The importance of training and education

Affiliated with the Université de Montréal, Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont welcomes more than 4,000 students each year, training them to become the next generation of scientists, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

Helping HMR students like Stéfanie to further their research and contribute to the advancement of science is one of the missions of the HMR Foundation. It is their curiosity, their discoveries, and their passion that will help treat more patients here at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont.

You can empower them to be a source of healing by way of your support. Thank you for giving.

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About the Three Minute Thesis competition

Since 2008, the Three Minute Thesis competition aims to make students’ research work accessible to the general public. The French equivalent, called Ma thèse en 180 secondes, has been going strong since 2012 in university circles.

The concept is simple: participants have 3 minutes and one single slide to explain their thesis. It is a real “tour de force” for students to summarize years of research, reading and experimentation in a presentation of less than 180 seconds.

Read Participation record au concours de vulgarisation « Ma thèse en 180 secondes », Université de Montréal (in French only)

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