Prof. Alexis Brice, director of the French Brain & Spine Institute (Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière (ICM)), reveals the recipe behind the success of the center since its foundation eight years ago and discusses the future of research on neurodegenerative diseases. Could you please introduce your exceptional career to our international audience and tell us what led you to get involved in the field of neurosciences? I was trained as a neurologist and I always wanted to understand more about the brain and its functions. Throughout my career, I got more and more interested in molecular biology – a developing field – and its applications in understanding brain diseases. This led to my research activity in neurogenetics, since 40 percent of genetic disorders actually affect the nervous system. This approach led us to identify many of the genes responsible for these conditions. From there, my team moved on to more physio-pathological approaches, where models are developed to understand precise dysfunctions and identify new therapeutic approaches. This genetic approach did not concern only rare diseases, but also very common ones, like Parkinson’s, which includes a subset of purely monogenic forms. All in all, I had a team; I was a hospital practitioner and a university professor, and I had the opportunity to assemble a department here, at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, aimed at creating a multidisciplinary approach to genetic disorders. I got involved in structuring the biomedical research at a national level through the creation of AVIESAN ( the French National Alliance for Life Sciences and Health), a useful experience to get a complete picture of the research quality in France and have an impact in structuring neurosciences. Lastly, six years ago, I became the director of the newly created ICM institute. Today, the ICM is recognized as a center of excellence in neurosciences, ranked third in Europe and first in France. How was it possible to achieve this status in only eight years? It is the combination of excellent choices. First, the institute was created on the site of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where clinical neurosciences were extremely strong, with a very long tradition and a large number of experts. The environment not only provided clinicians but also a large patient pool: one hundred thousand patients per year are treated in the neurology section. The second winning choice was to team up with Inserm, the CNRS and Sorbonne University to create an institute with a new spirit and a unique ecosystem including patients, clinicians, researchers and entrepreneurs. The idea was not only to do excellent research or to provide excellent care, but also to be able to develop new tools and applications for patients. Have you seen progress in the reconciliation between the historically opposed private and public research sectors in France?
Mixing public and private research was the idea behind the creation of ICM