LIH has a new director to lead its Department of Population Health - a cornerstone of the institute and its development towards translational research. Prof Laetitia Huiart is expert in public health, epidemiology as well as methodology and statistics for clinical research and has a special interest in oncology. Having started her work at LIH in August 2017, she is presently implementing, in close collaboration with national health actors, a line of research that will impact on the population’s health and lifestyle. Her expertise is a key element in setting up the new scientific strategy of the institute.
Developing population health research...
By joining LIH to manage the Department of Population Health, Prof Laetitia Huiart has set herself a new challenge. What mainly attracted her to Luxembourg is the dynamism of the country and its openness for research. ‘There is great endeavour to develop research and specialise in specific areas,’ she states. ‘Research institutes are deeply committed to their missions and do science at a high level. I noticed a proximity between research actors and decision makers that is only possible in a small and development-oriented country. Such an environment is favourable to innovation.’
LIH’s Department of Population Health has a unique expertise in Luxembourg for the design and coordination of clinical trials in close connection with hospitals. In addition, it conducts research aimed at preventing and targeting the main causes of disease and mortality. It communicates public health information to the main health actors in Luxembourg to enable evidence-based decision making. Prof Huiart aims to restructure the department in accordance with its three main activities: clinical research, population health research and expertise in public health. ‘The department must be able to play a decisive role in the development of translational research at LIH by bringing the innovations that arise from basic research to the patients’, emphasises Prof Huiart.
To valorise the researchers’ expertise, she would like to further strengthen the exchange with stakeholders in health and healthcare. ‘My goal is to put public health issues at the forefront. We conduct a lot of health studies allowing to identify multiple risk factors associated with diseases such as cardiovascular disease for example. The results of these studies help to formulate recommendations for better disease prevention. Today, the impact of our studies is not yet significant enough to profoundly change lifestyles and habits, in particular with regard to diet and physical activity’, explains Prof Huiart.
...with an impact on society
Prof Huiart is convinced that innovation in public health is possible at a national level with a stronger collaboration between all stakeholders and the use of national databases. According to her, e-health technologies enable for a more efficient analysis and exchange of health data. Digital health platforms are an interface between healthcare professionals and patients that allow a better medical follow-up and personalised patient advice.
Beyond the exchange with healthcare actors, Prof Huiart also aims to involve the general public. Her goal is to conduct research for the population - with the population. ‘We need to collect and integrate the opinions of individuals, especially patients and patient organisations, into our research’, she underlines. ‘Our scientific questions should not be disconnected from people's lives. Research must serve society, respond to its needs.’
Collaboration is key
The strategy of Prof Huiart should foster the collaboration between the different research units within LIH, increase the visibility of Luxembourg as a research site for population health and clinical research, and have a true influence on the health behaviour and lifestyle of the local population.
To be more involved in the international scientific community, Prof Huiart intends to initiate new collaborations and join European research networks. She also aims to strengthen existing partnerships with universities having curricula and research themes focused on public health such as the University of Lorraine and the University of Maastricht.
A career path dedicated to public health
The new Department Head has a strong scientific background. After graduating from universities in Marseille, Paris and Montreal, she earned her degree in medicine with a specialisation in public health. She also completed a doctorate in clinical research and public health in the field of pharmacoepidemiology. During her PhD, she evaluated the adherence to hormone therapy of breast cancer patients by analysing large medico-administrative databases from several countries.
Prof Huiart then joined the Paoli-Calmettes Institute in Marseille, a centre for global cancer care, where she worked for eight years both as a clinician and as a researcher. Her clinical activity focused on the identification and follow-up of people at high risk to develop cancer, especially those carrying a genetic mutation. This activity was complementary to her research work on the psychosocial impact of medical consultations, patient adherence to prevention and treatment and the communication between physicians and patients. Next she was appointed at the University Hospital Centre of Reunion Island as Head of the Centre for Methodology and Statistics and Director of the Clinical and Epidemiological Investigation Centre. She also taught public health for six years in this university before joining LIH.