Research

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Nestled, like many other major institutions in the French capital, amongst apartment houses and retail outlets in the 15th “arrondisement”, the compact Institut Pasteur campus in Paris is the site of one of the most dynamic and innovative research campuses in the world. Over 2600 people (scientists, technical staff, administrators and support staff) work on the campus. Over 60 nationalities are represented, in line with Louis Pasteur’s plans to create dynamic focus for scientists from all over the world to work together on a common aim, to improve human health and welfare through scientific discovery. All of us aim to maintain the Pasteur tradition of excellence and innovation.

How are we, the Pasteuriens, perceived by the non-scientific community? No doubt some are not in the least interested by the Institut Pasteur, but many, perhaps the majority, are very curious about our history and what we are doing now. We see this more and more as members of the Pasteur faculty give public lectures throughout France and even beyond on the work we do on the campus and elsewhere as part of our on-going 120th birthday celebrations. Everyone on this “lecture circuit” has been highly impressed by the interest and attention to details shown by our audiences, by the pertinence of their questions, and by their generosity.

The multidisciplinary nature of the Paris campus and its work is one of the many major strengths of the Institut Pasteur. As the reader will discover in this document, the breadth of subjects covered by our research teams, even within a single department, is very impressive; from high resolution structural analysis to genetic dissection of disease susceptibility, from diagnosis and rapid identification of infectious agents to understanding the fine control of developmental and regulatory processes. This wide coverage encourages cross-discipline collaborations, innovative approaches to emerging scientific questions and cross-complementarity of ideas and experimental approaches. We are not complacent, however. The Institut Pasteur aims to maintain its position at the forefront of scientific discovery and will do all it can to foster cross-discipline interactions.

Core facilities are important components of the institute and make a major contribution to cross-discipline interactions. They serve as a focus point for the exploitation of innovative technologies and the exchange of ideas, and they provide access to novel experimental approaches and the ability to refine and expand them to meet emerging needs. Core facilities have been considerably strengthened over the past few years, both by investment in major new equipment and by recruitment of new personnel and retraining of existing personnel. Further strengthening and rationalization are now needed to reinforce our core facility capacity, notably in biostatistics and informatics and in animal model systems.

Senior scientists must continue to make way for younger scientists to take leading roles in scientific initiatives and the presentation of their ideas and results. Scientific autonomy coupled with mentoring by more senior colleagues and with group discussions are central to career development and the emergence of new concepts. The ten thematic departments that cover all of the research activities on the campus represent ideal environments in which to strengthen scientific collegiality. Within these departments, many of the larger research units host semi-autonomous groups working that are developing their own research projects. These large units minimize running costs and duplication of efforts while allowing groups to develop and to refine their own ideas together with their neighbors in the same unit. In addition, we recognize the importance of informal contacts between scientists of all disciplines; as a colleague remarked recently, a large proportion of the best ideas in science come from chance encounters in the corridor, the coffee shop or in the campus gardens, rather that in front of a computer screen. While the tightly packed campus restricts our ability to expand, it greatly facilitates contact between scientists of different disciplines.

Would it be desirable to put our departments under one roof? There are occasions when this arrangement might be highly satisfactory, to minimize installation costs, for example, when major equipment can be shared within a building. This policy is being implemented in the extensive renovations of the Duclaux building, which are now at their half way stage. This building will be almost entirely devoted to units and groups working on bacteria, allowing them to share the core and other facilities that will be installed in this building. This harmonization is not possible or even desirable throughout the campus, however, because it limits cross contact between different disciplines and encourages scientific compartmentalization.

The Institut Pasteur continues to place great importance on the recruitment and creation of opportunities for young scientists. The hugely successful 5-year group-leader program will be continued. This program offers highly competitive financial and environmental inducements to young scientists from all over the world who wish to assemble a small, dynamic group of scientists to work on subjects that fall within the wide remit of the institute. These 5-year groups that are created under this program are incubators that provide optimal environments for career development, either within the institute or, after the end of the five-year tenure, elsewhere. We are justifiably proud of 5-year group leaders who leave the institute to set up laboratories elsewhere, as we are of the 5-year groups that are converted and expanded into full research units.

Other aspect of our drive to encourage young scientists is our new international postgraduate program, instigated as a pilot scheme in 2009 with a limited number of recruits and destined to expand into a major aspect of the teaching and training activities of the Institut Pasteur. This program, which is organized jointly with several Paris universities, will welcome the best graduate students from all over the world who wish to study for their Ph.D. on the Paris campus of the Institut Pasteur. The institute is committed to providing high-level training for these students, both through its existing teaching program (in which the English language is being increasingly used) and through custom-designed courses, and well as administrative and financial assistance. For the first time, the degree certificate that these Ph.D. students will receive will carry the Institut Pasteur logo.

A final word about the renovations that are currently under way on the campus. The Sunday visitors I mentioned in the introductory paragraph cannot fail to be impressed by the visible signs of work that is under way: the newly restored façade of the Duclaux building, the temporary workshops and store rooms and building materials, and the excavations currently under way for the new building. What they see is only a fraction of the work that is under way. Many laboratories are being redesigned and reconstructed to create an even better and safer working environment, and new facilities are being installed all over the campus. Many groups are already installed in custom-designed laboratories. This massive reconstruction and development program is being carried out with minimal disruption; our scientific productivity remains as high as it ever was (if not higher), and nothing can deviate us from our ambitious goals. 

 
February 2009