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The 130 laboratories at the Institut Pasteur tackle a wide range of challenges, from improving our understanding of the mechanisms of living organisms to searching for new ways of combating disease. To give you an insight into their work, four scientists share their hopes for the fight against cancer, brain disorders and infectious diseases, as well as the promising field of regenerative medicine.

Fighting cancer

Some twenty units are involved in cancer research at the Institut Pasteur. They investigate cancers of infectious origin (15% of all cancer) such as liver cancer associated with hepatitis B or C, or stomach cancer caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacterium, brain tumors (gliomas), leukemia and lymphoma, etc. Their research ranges from exploring the mechanisms behind carcinogenesis to developing new treatments and diagnostic or prognostic tests.

 

Key figures

365,000

New cases each year in France

25 Million

people affected worldwide

8 Million

deaths every year

 

 

Prof. Claude Leclerc, Head of the Immune Regulation and Vaccinology Unit, carries out research on therapeutic cancer vaccines:

Claude Leclerc, chef de l'unité Régulation immunitaire et vaccinologie à l'Institut Pasteur - Institut Pasteur
"For the past 15 years I have been working on therapeutic vaccines for cancer. Unlike preventive vaccines, which prevent the onset of disease, therapeutic vaccines are intended to be used once the disease has already been identified, in conjunction with surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. The aim of this strategy is to stimulate patients' immune defenses against tumor cells and also to prevent relapse. Immunotherapy has the potentially huge advantage of bringing about long-term responses in patients (like most vaccines). In my laboratory, two therapeutic cancer vaccine candidates have been developed in cooperation with other Institut Pasteur teams. These vaccines are currently undergoing clinical trials for cervical cancer and breast cancer (MAG-Tn3), the latter thanks to the generous support of donors. In the long term we hope to be able to add new weapons to the current arsenal of cancer treatments, for the benefit of patients."

 


Promising new therapies for brain disorders

Extensive brain research is carried out in the Institut Pasteur's Department of Neuroscience. Some of this research focuses on major public health problems, including neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, autism, deafness, depression and nicotine dependence.

Prof. Pierre-Marie Lledo, Head of the Perception and Memory Unit and Director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Institut Pasteur, tells us about new therapeutic strategies to tackle neurodegenerative diseases:

Pierre-Marie Lledo, chef de l'unité Perception et mémoire à l'Institut Pasteur - Institut Pasteur
"In 2003, we discovered the functions of new neurons in adult brains. This discovery had two major consequences. In terms of fundamental research, it encouraged us to view the adult brain as dynamic rather than inert, and prompted us to explore questions such as how these new neurons aid memory. And with regard to public health, it enabled us to envisage new strategies that would stimulate the production of new neurons in the brain to repair damaged circuits like those we see in neurodegenerative diseases. We are exploring possible ways of stimulating the production of new neurons, guiding them to circuits that need "repairing" and forcing them to integrate and survive within these defective circuits. This has opened up extraordinary new research possibilities that will improve our understanding of how people can retain information throughout their lifetime and pave the way for new therapeutic strategies for all neurodegenerative diseases."

 


From stem cells to regenerative medicine

Key figures

100,000 billion

cells in the human body

 

200 different cell 

types in the human body

In 2012, the Institut Pasteur launched Revive, a French biomedical network set up to investigate stem cells and the concept of "regenerative" medicine with the aim of promoting the development of new therapies that could be applied to a wide range of diseases (diabetes, heart attacks, Parkinson's, etc.). This field currently represents a major challenge for medical research.

Prof. Shahragim Tajbakhsh, Director of the Department of Developmental & Stem Cell Biology and joint coordinator of the Revive LabEx:

Shahragim Tajbakhsh, chef de l'unité Cellules souches et développement à l'Institut Pasteur - Institut Pasteur
"The Revive network involves around fifteen teams from the Institut Pasteur as well as external partners. Our aim is to give doctors the tools to "repair" tissues and organs in our body that have been destroyed through disease or accident by using the stem cells that we study in our laboratories. Clinical trials of this cell therapy are already taking place across the world, for example to restore sight through corneal regeneration or replace skin in those who have suffered major burns. Our fundamental research is absolutely vital in making stem cell therapy effective and promoting its application. We are particularly looking for solutions to overcome the obstacles that are still preventing the widespread use of this regenerative medicine that could be applied by doctors in patients. In the long term, stem cells could be used to strengthen our body's natural defenses as they weaken with age, to regenerate damaged areas in the brain or to rebuild tissues or organs after a debilitating accident."

 


 Tackling infectious diseases

Key figures

35 Million

people worldwide currently live with

HIV/AIDS

1 MILLION

Deaths due to HIV/AIDS worldwide

each year

The Institut Pasteur is strongly committed to the fight against infectious diseases – diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites or fungi – such as influenza, Ebola, tuberculosis, malaria, Zika, AIDS and nosocomial infections. It plays a vital role in AIDS research – the AIDS virus, HIV, was isolated by the Institut Pasteur's scientists in 1983. Two of these scientists, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, were awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine for this significant breakthrough. Several of the Institut Pasteur's teams are still involved in tackling this major public health problem.

Michaela Muller-Trutwin, Head of the HIV, Inflammation and Persistence Unit, explains why this research is so important:

Michaela Muller-Trutwin, responsable de l'unité HIV, inflammation et persistance à l'Institut Pasteur - Institut Pasteur

"In France, the number of new cases of HIV infection each year is not going down. The need for an HIV vaccine is greater than ever. Antiretroviral therapy is very effective in preventing viral replication, but in some patients there is still a risk that they will develop diseases such as cancer. We are trying to understand the reasons for this phenomenon so that we can offer patients more effective treatments.

Our research findings helped demonstrate that early treatment considerably improves the life expectancy of HIV-positive individuals, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to recommend treating all patients as early as possible. This is a major breakthrough, but it increases the economic burden for each country because these treatments are very expensive and patients need to take them for their whole lives. That's why we are working to develop new therapies that will enable patients to stop their treatment without putting themselves and those around them at risk."

 

 

 

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