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The growth of the ICP


Thierry Boon's work on tumour cells
Christian de Duve Scientist
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What he did discover was not what he was looking for, which is often the case; he discovered something more interesting. He discovered that cells... that animals that had been inoculated with these cells would, later, reject the cells – that is, they would become immunised against the cells, and so this was the start of a... a long, long investigation in which the immunological rejection of cancer cells was established and studied in great detail. Well, when the Ludwig Institute decided to create this lab here, Thierry was somewhat undecided; he was still in Paris, but I think he... he could be persuaded to move; and so I was able to lure him back to Belgium and to start a small lab at the ICP [International Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology], and this small lab, eventually, became part of the Ludwig organisation, and today he heads this very large part... this very large lab of 80 some investigators and he has not, yet, reached his goal, which is to vaccinate patients against their own tumour, but he is moving in that direction and a few patients have already been improved, but it's an extremely difficult and I could spend hours just telling stories about how difficult it is to move from the laboratory to the manufacturing industry. It’s very easy... and to the clinic. It's very easy to cure thousands of mice, but to cure your first patient, it may take 20 years of very hard work and an enormous investment of money and effort before it can be done. It can only be done with the help of very, very wealthy companies that can afford to invest the huge amounts of money that are involved. Fortunately he has... he has that kind of support. So he's moving slowly but in the right direction. Thierry Boon has been my successor, as the director of the ICP, and he has just resigned as a director, last year, to be replaced by a young man called Emile Van Schaftingen who was trained by Hers, my old co-worker – Géry Hers. Made some very important discoveries with Géry Hers, including a new phosphate, exos phosphate esters fructose-2, 6-bisphosphate, and is now heading the institute; he's a young man and working, interestingly, mostly on carbohydrate metabolism, diabetes and insulin, so the insulin that I put on the back burner 50 years ago is still alive and well, but not yet elucidated, thanks to Hers and his group and finally to Emile Van Schaftingen. So my function in the ICP in this institute to which they misguidedly have now given my name... my function has now become very... very insignificant; I don't have a research lab here, I'm very... I’m a little consulted by some of the workers who tell me about their work and sometimes ask my advice, but I'm more and more incompetent in the new fields, in the new areas, of cell biology, immunology, molecular biology, they've developed so much in the last few years that I haven't been able to follow. But I remain on the board of the ICP and so I keep involved in keeping the institute on, what I might say, the right track in trying to get support for this institute, which it obviously needs and is not easy to find – especially in small countries like Belgium – but, anyway, I remain... remain personally involved, I have an office in this institute, I have secretarial support, I still move on... move to New York a couple of times every year, I have an office at Rockefeller, secretarial help at Rockefeller, but, basically, I have stopped and I stopped maybe 20 years ago... or 15 to 20 years ago, I've stopped doing active research in my old fields of cellular biology and biochemistry; I've stopped following what was happening – it's too specialised for me to continue following but I have discovered a new interest.

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: Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, ICP, International Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology, Thierry Boon, Emile Van Schaftingen, Géry Hers

Duration: 6 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008