Annik Bianchini - Ambassade de France

No. 27 – June 2008
The Institute for Cerebral and Medullary Disorders:
a world-class centre of excellence
The future Institute for
Cerebral and Medullary Disorders,
the aim of which is to examine the
disorders and brain and spinal cord
trauma, is being built in Paris
between now and 2010, within the
precincts of the Pitié-Salpêtrière
Hospital. It will bring together
under one roof 600 clinicians and
researchers, from both the public
and the private sector, specialising
in the nervous system, but also
philosophers, physicists, engineers
and technicians from all over the
The future ICM building
world. This international project
designed by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte
will make it one of the world’s
leading research centres. The challenge is to develop innovative treatments in the field of
The first stone of the Institute for Cerebral and Medullary Disorders (the ICM) was laid at the
Pitié-Salpétrière hospital in Paris on 13 June 2008. The brainchild of three world-renowned
professors, Professor Gérard Saillant, orthopaedic surgeon and trauma specialist, Professor Yves Agid
and Professor Olivier Lyon-Caen, neurologists, the aim of this ambitious project is to provide
responses to the growing understanding of the nervous system and its disorders, such as multiple
sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, cerebro-vascular accidents, brain tumours,
and major psychiatric illnesses. “Diseases of the brain and spinal cord have become an emergency, a
challenge that demands not only a general rise in awareness and mobilisation but also resources,”
explains Prof. Gérard Saillant, president of the ICM.
There is often a gap between research and its applications. By being sited within the hospital
where neurology first came into being, the ICM should ensure that patients benefit from the most
recent discoveries by applying the latest high-level therapeutic advances to them without delay.
Because in order to achieve convincing results rapidly, it is necessary to take the opposite approach to
the current dispersal of research. This is the reason why the treatments are designed and developed on
the site where they are prescribed. “The Pitié-Salpétrière hospital also happens to be the place where
the first chair in neurology was created and where the first brain operation was carried out,”
observes Prof. Saillant.
The hospital complex is on a university site with a strong potential for teaching (Université
Paris VI) and research activities, in partnership with major institutions such as the INSERM and the
CNRS. The project’s originality lies in its ability to bring together under the same roof, top-level
doctors and researchers from France and abroad, from the public and the private sector, working both
in the field of basic research and in clinical research, and to provide them with ultra-sophisticated
technical platforms.
A research centre in human Neuro-imaging was set up in the autumn of 2006, allowing a
genuine “off-site” ICM to be created, from which researchers who are already on site are able to
benefit. The purpose of this centre is to provide a technical platform for magnetic resonance imaging
and exploration on humans. Already operational, it ensures both the development of theoretical
research and of top-level applied research in neurology and psychiatry. Thanks to Siemens, it has the
3 Teslas MRI magnetic resonance imaging system, which is among the most powerful equipment of
its generation. This tool is the first MRI for human clinical research in Île-de-France. The centre’s
computer equipment will be made by Sun Microsystems and AMD.
The Fondation ICM, a private research foundation of approved public utility, has benefited
from an initial investment of 67 million euros thanks, of course, to strong public support, including
the State, Ile-de-France Region, Mairie de Paris, Ministry of Research and the National Institute for
Health and Medical Research. But it would not have been possible without raising a considerable
amount of private capital.
The ICM is a project without borders. “The leading research groups from France and abroad
and from all backgrounds, notably the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Scandinavian
countries, China and Japan, will be conceiving and developing cutting-edge scientific projects here.
A programme of cooperation and exchanges with several universities has already been established,”
Prof. Gérard Saillant stresses.
The ICM will be at the heart of this fabric of research. In a building covering 22,000 sq. m, on
a 4,400 sq. m plot, over 600 researchers and doctors specialising in the nervous system (molecular
and cellular neurobiologists, neurophysiologists, specialists in the sciences of cognition, etc.) from all
over the globe, but also philosophers, physicists, engineers and technicians, will contribute their skills
in fields as varied as computer science, chemistry or the social sciences.
Major ambassadors, such as film director Luc Besson, former Formula 1 racing driver
Michael Shumacher, actors Michelle Yeoh, Jean Reno and many others, have already lent their
support and fame to this project.
A better understanding of the mechanisms of the brain, the spinal cord and, more broadly, the
nervous system, will allow the exploration of various possibilities for the repair of nerve cells and the
development of therapeutic treatments. “We now know that a neurological disorder will affect one
person in eight. This is a vital public health issue, all the more crucial now that people are living
longer and the question of how to “age well” has gained significantly in importance,” adds Prof.
Gérard Saillant.
Annik Bianchini
Website: Institute for Cerebral and Medullary Disorders