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University Of Pittsburgh Initiates Scientific Collaboration With French Institute Of Health And Medical Research

PITTSBURGH and PARIS, February 13, 2004 The French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently signed an international collaborative research agreement that is the first of its kind for the French institute and an academic medical center in North America. Similar agreements are pending between INSERM, an organization analogous to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and institutions in Canada and Boston.

The international agreement marks a substantive and promising research initiative aimed at sharing technologies and scientific strategies and establishing new models for scientific excellence in France, the United States and the international community.

Among the projects being readied for joint investigation are studies involving the characterization of a variety of stem cell populations such as hematopoietic stem cells, those derived from bone marrow and blood. Other stem cell populations to be studied include pancreatic islet cells, stromal cells those coming from connective tissue and endothelial cells, which make up the lining of blood vessels and other internal organs. Such investigations will form the bedrock of an initiative that goes beyond conventional collaborations between international colleagues to create a shared laboratory that will also encourage and facilitate academic exchange.

The agreement was made possible because of the 2003 recruitment of Bruno Peault, Ph.D., a major figure in French biomedical science, to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Dr. Peault, who also has joint appointments with the university's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, will remain head of an INSERM unit in France, which will serve as the French counterpart of the joint laboratory. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, Dr. Peault was research director at the same INSERM department he will head as part of the joint project.

We are delighted to start this collaboration, said INSERM chief executive Christian Brechot. This program marks the first joint laboratory established by INSERM in the United States.

Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor, health sciences, and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, hailed the joint project as a significant step forward in the increasing globalization of academic science.

We at the University of Pittsburgh recognize that our colleagues are not just those we meet across the hall, but scientists who work around the world, said Dr. Levine. We are committed to encouraging relationships and sharing expertise with researchers wherever they are to benefit health care and scientific discovery for everyone.

A two-day scientific seminar jointly organized by INSERM and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Science and Technology Office of the French Embassy in Washington), which was recently held in Paris, provided an opportunity for researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and France to exchange results from their respective studies.

We have some very interesting preliminary results concerning studies of multipotent stem cells in adults that indicate there may be a reservoir of these cells in the body, said Dr. Peault. Johnny Huard, Ph.D., associate professor of orthopaedics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is working to characterize the cells, Dr. Peault said.

The future scope of the collaboration will expand beyond investigation of stem cells, however. Scientists from France and the University of Pittsburgh will be reviewing other programs such as hepatology, psychiatry, neurobiology, transplantation immunology and computational biology areas in which they already have found common interests.

This initiative is advantageous from several perspectives. Its novel approach allows a French researcher in the United States, Dr. Peault, to maintain substantive contact with the French scientific community. In addition, the agreement emphasizes the need to increase and improve scientific exchange, including short- and long-term visits of senior scientists between the two countries.

The agreement also will help to fulfill federal policy encouraged by the National Science Foundation to increase the travel of young American scientists abroad to accentuate the international dimension of biomedical research.

Founded in 1964, INSERM is the only French public institute entirely dedicated to biological and medical research and improving public health. INSERM has13,000 research, technical and administrative staff. In this government-funded institute, all diseases are studied, from the most common to the most rare. INSERM, which is involved in all aspects of research, has a mission to conduct basic and clinical research to ultimately improve public health. The institute has more than 360 laboratories throughout France and interacts closely with social and economic partners on a national and international level. INSERM works with some 350 pharmaceutical, biotechnology and biomedical technology companies, with more than 1,000 collaborative research and technology transfer agreements. In 2002, INSERM had a patent portfolio of 502 patent families, an increase of
7 percent over 2001.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is consistently ranked among the nation's leading medical schools. It is one of the university's six Schools of the Health Sciences, which include the schools of Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Graduate School of Public Health. Their combined mission is to train tomorrow's health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance the understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and to participate in the delivery of care as a partner with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Among the many areas for which its faculty and programs are internationally recognized are oncology, psychiatry, genetics, transplantation and public health.

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