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Collaboration within the ICP


The International Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology
Christian de Duve Scientist
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And so was born the project of an institute which originally was named the International Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology. It's a heavy... it's a heavy cumbersome name but it meant a number of things. International because I wanted this institute not be the parochial kind that we had in Louvain before. You know, Belgium is a terrible country with respect of parochialism of universities; the Free University of Brussels and the Catholic University of Louvain may be 20 miles apart but... but when I was a student and a young professor they were entirely separated to the extent that they didn't even talk to each other except when they were obliged to talk to each other at some academic meetings, the Natural Science Foundation and things of that kind. They were opposed – and I will come back to this - they were opposed by their philosophies. The Free University of Brussels is based on so-called free thinking and the Catholic University, of course, was founded by the Catholic Church, and that was a tremendous opposition and I will come back to this later. And same thing between other universities: Liège will not talk to Gent, will not talk to Louvain or to... Our universities are almost completely inbred, or at least they were; you became a professor in the university were you come... had been a student. And so international meant, of course, national as well: that we would take people from any background provided they were good – excellence, quality was the important thing, and not whether they went to church or not, or things of that kind, or what language they spoke, whether they spoke French or Flemish or German or Japanese. Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology: this meant that we would include cell biology and molecular biology – that is, the new biology – we'll put the tools together where they would... the name pathology was there not because it was the main goal, the main objective, but it meant that we were doing cellular and molecular biology with an eye on possible applications. And initially for this project I was able to enlist four groups... it's very insufficient to start with, but four groups that were of good enough quality and were willing to work together and had been completely separated, geographically, in the city of Louvain. That was first of all my own group of biochemistry, which included the group of Hers, and it was a large group – biochemistry and cell biology. There was a very good group of immunology headed by a man called Félix Heremans who had worked at Rockefeller with Henry Kunkel in the old days and where he had discovered IgA, for instance – a good investigator. There was a group headed by another friend of mine, Michel de Visscher – already died 20 years ago but had a very good group working in what was called, at that time, general pathology; was really sort of a mixture of a clinical and laboratory investigation with a main focus on the thyroid. He was an expert in thyroid function and in thyroid pathology. So we had endocrinology with him and, of course, with our own group where we worked on diabetes. And finally, there was a small group headed by a man called Carlo Cocito who was about the only group in the University of Louvain who was involved with molecular biology as applied to viruses and to bacteria. And so those four groups, sort of, decided together to form this new institute.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: International Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology, Louvain, Belgium, University of Brussels, Catholic University of Louvain, Félix Heremans, Henry Kunkel, Michel de Visscher, Carlo Cocito

Duration: 4 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008