Credentials: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine • Director of Biology Reproduction, Environment, Epigenetics and Development (BREED) Research Unit 

Homebase: French Institute for Agriculture, Food, Environment (INRAE)   

Where in the world: Jouy-en-Josas, France

The one who helped give birth to a new science 

 

Dr. Pascale Chavatte-Palmer, an advising member of our Puppy & Kitten Expert Board is a Veterinary Surgeon and, since 2020, in charge of a 90+ person research laboratory at one of France’s leading institutes. Enthusiastic and dedicated, she comes to the Puppy & Kitten Expert Board with years of experience studying pregnancy and placenta in relation to long-term offspring outcomes across several animal species.

 

From as far back as she can remember, Dr. Chavatte-Palmer wanted to work with animals. Graduating from vet school, Dr. Chavatte-Palmer realised that science was more her thing than veterinary clinical practice. Research was a better match to her hyper-curious nature.


At the end of veterinary school, she chose to spend a training internship in Newmarket, England with Dr. Peter Rossdale, renowned veterinary surgeon and one of the pioneering leaders in equine perinatalogy.

Defining moment? The first foal in Dr. Chavatte-Palmer’s care died when he was three days old. He hadn’t been doing well, but it was still devastating to the young intern. She was in tears. Dr. Rossdale came in, and, instead of comforting her, exclaimed, “Well, not much we can do about this now – let’s go and find out what happened!” They headed to the autopsy room, and there, in the middle of the night, they tried to figure out what had killed the foal. Dr. Chavatte- Palmer had an aha moment. At that time, Dr. Rossdale had one of the biggest equine neonatal clinics in Europe and was also conducting research in horse perinatology. This pioneering research made real sense to Dr. Chavatte-Palmer. So, once she finished her studies, she headed back to Dr. Rossdale’s clinic as an intern doing both clinical and research work.

One day at the beginning of the 90s, Dr. Rossdale called and invited Dr. Chavatte-Palmer to go and hear a lecture by David Barker, human epidemiologist, at the Royal College in London. Barker coined the term ‘Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD)’ and was the founder of this area of research. It was controversial at the time because so much was unknown. His discourse was convincing. At the end of it, Dr. Rossdale turned to Chavatte-Palmer and said, “If this phenomenon is real in humans, it must apply to horses.” It has been her motto ever since. If it is observed in humans, it could very well work the same way in other species, including cats and dogs.

 

“If it is observed in humans, it could very well work the same way in cats and dogs.”
— Dr. Chavatte-Palmer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

 

A two-year residency in Florida followed, practicing, teaching and studying reproduction across all species – cats, dogs, cattle, and horses among them. She then spent 31⁄2 years at Cambridge doing her PhD with Dr. Rossdale, who had obtained funding for the programme. At the end of that period, Dr. Chavatte-Palmer headed back to France, PhD in hand.

She firmly believes that inter-species comparative physiology and pathology is one of the keys to finding groundbreaking solutions for all. Running a research group at INRAE since 2008 has allowed Dr. Chavatte-Palmer the chance to work with many researchers of scientific, medical or veterinary backgrounds on several animal models. Her own research interest is in understanding how the placenta, the highly adaptable organ of exchange between the foetus and the mother, can help mitigate effects of the maternal environment. When all is normal, the placenta protects the foetus; sometimes, it is overwhelmed. Dr. Chavatte-Palmer believes that if bio-markers could be identified, as some are in humans, perhaps we could intervene at the level of the placenta in case of pregnancy problems to actually improve offspring outcome or health.

Dr. Chavatte-Palmer joined the board as a DOHaD specialist – she offers a radically different point of view on the subject of feline and canine physiology and it was this difference in perspective that inspired her to join the team. It can only lead to game-changing outcomes for the pets – and pet owners – of the world.

5 questions with Dr. Chavatte-Palmer


Are you a more of a dog or a cat person? 

We have 4 cats and 4 dogs, so I think it is safe to say that I am a dog and a cat person. We live on a farm with 18 horses and several hens, so I am also a horse and a chicken person! My dream was to have a farm with space for all the animals I want, and that is where we live. All the cats are rescues, and all the dogs except for one. I saw a Bernese Mountain Dog at a friend’s house years ago and fell in love, so I had to get one. Her name is Peach.

What would change for our animal friends if you had a magic wand?

Depends on which animal, but I would make sure that they are well-bred and well-fed, and kept in conditions that ensure their welfare in the scientific sense of that word, and be able to truly express who they are as a species. Isn’t that the definition of real animal welfare?

What's the weirdest work of your everyday work life?

I think it is DOHaD. In English, it stands for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. In French, it should be Les origines développementales de la santé et des maladies, or ODSEM. But we call it DOHaD, even in French.

Which breed or species would you be if you had four legs?

There is no other choice, I would like to be like Peach, our Bernese Mountain Dog, so friendly and beautiful. Everybody would love me and take great care of me. I would bring happiness to people and be a light- hearted, worry-free dog. Of course, I would not do research - I would be a dog, after all, not trained to be a scientist! 

What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?

Can I say I would be a vet but in clinical practice? I just love animals so much. Otherwise, I would have been a chef. No doubt. To invent, to create and recreate, and get to the bottom of a flavour...to experiment and share my findings with people... how funny, it is the same as what I am doing now in research with my team, but in a kitchen.


“Inter-species comparative physiology and pathology is one of the keys to finding groundbreaking solutions for all.”

— Dr. Chavatte-Palmer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine 


Meet other members of the team