December 6th, 2001: rue d’Ulm, Paris. I crossed the threshold of the President’s office at the Curie Institute, where I was to spend twelve years, the most exciting and fruitful of my life…
I was fascinated by the huge photograph of Marie Curie by Henri Manuel; her dark, sad eyes seemed to scrutinize the newcomer.
There is a kind of “silent engagement” linking me to this woman who, 150 years after her birth, continues to feature as a unique character in the history of science.
Before considering how I could continue her work while respecting the “Curie Model” as Marie Curie had conceived it, I wanted to get to know this immortal character better.
The biography written by her daughter Eve “humanises” Marie Curie. We discover the bereavements that overshadowed her youth, the moments of gaiety in Zwola, and the moments of doubt, when, at the age of 22, she wrote to her brother: “I have lost hope of ever becoming someone, all my ambition is focussed on Bronia and on you”.
“Humanising Marie Curie” means discovering her need to love and to be loved. Apart from the deep affection which bound her to her family, it is revealed in the terribly touching words written in her diary a few days after Pierre’s accidental death. “Pierre, my Pierre, you lie there like a poor wounded man, sleeping with his head bandaged up. Your face is soft and peaceful; you’re still you, locked in a dream which you can’t escape. Your lips, which I once called greedy, are pale and discoloured …”
From then on I was better able to understand Marie Curie’s gaze, captured for eternity by Henri Manuel.
- The “Curie Model” and the Curie Institute
As Marie Curie wanted, the “Curie Model” is defined by continuity between pure research and care, summed up in the phrase “From research to innovative care”. This model is based on the bringing together of researchers, caregivers and patients.
It all began in 1909. The Pasteur Institute, which administered part of the Iffla-Osiris legacy (amounting to 35 million old francs) together with the University of Paris, developed a joint project to build a “Radium Institute” which was to be completed in July 1914, on the eve of war. This construction would include two buildings, separated, as stipulated by Marie Curie, by a garden planted with plane trees, lime trees and rose bushes. There was also a small wing for the preparation of radioactive sources. The Curie Wing was dedicated to research on radioactivity. It was directed by Marie Curie. The Pasteur Wing was devoted to the radiation treatment of cancers. It was directed by Dr. Claudius Regaud.
At the same time (1913) the Warsaw radioactivity laboratory was set up at the initiative and with the support of Marie Curie. It was directed by Ludovick Wertenstein.
The projects carried out over the past fifteen years follow the “Curie Model”, whether it is the genetics and developmental biology work stream for pure research or the knowledge transfer “from research to innovative care »
- Developmental biology and the Curie Institute
In June 1998, the Board of Directors approved a development project from the Research section, then headed by Daniel Louvard, “to explore new therapeutic approaches to cancer”.
It was only in October 2002, after the legal and financial administrative problems had been solved, that the council decided to start work. In partnership with the CNRS [National Centre for Scientific Research], INSERM [Institute of Health and Medical Research], and Pierre and Marie Curie University, the goal is based on a simple idea: knowledge of normal cellular development should promote understanding of pathological abnormalities, in particular cellular proliferation and cancerisation. Studying the actions of genes and their functions, at the level of the organism fills in a “missing link” and thus promotes the transfer of pure research to the hospital.
The representative of the Ministry of Research on the Board of Directors enthused: “It’s a wonderful project […] Faint-heartedness has led to us missing too many opportunities to set up brilliant research projects and recruit prestigious foreign scientists to work in France.” She is not mistaken: in fact, of the 106 researchers applying for a position in this new institute, two-thirds are foreign researchers!
NB in December 2013, all activities combined, the Curie Institute included staff of 81 different nationalities
- Translational research and the Curie Institute
The Translational Research Department, as it exists today, links “research and care” to the place where researchers and physicians jointly develop “biomedical research” projects. In the process of developing a mutual language, shared knowledge and a common culture, the “Incentive and Co-operative Programmes” – the PICs – visualised by Daniel Louvard, were the first fruits. This department is the culmination of nearly 10 years of imagination, exchange, constructive reflection, and funding contributions resulting from public generosity.
This ability to anticipate scientific and structural developments was recognized in June 2011 by the first SIRIC [Integrated Cancer Research Site] award granted by the INCa [National Cancer Institute] The National Cancer Institute defines the concept of integration as: sharing of research questions and objectives between various disciplines, in order to jointly develop synergistic programmes, with the aim of better patient care.
We are definitely not deviating from the Curie Model!
- The Curie Institute: from the past to the future
The Curie Model, dating back to 1909, continues to inspire doctors and researchers at the Curie Institute
They have a duty to know, and to acknowledge, what they owe to Marie Curie, and to her family – “the most radioactive family in the world”, as Paul Langevin had it.
It is their responsibility to keep their memories alive.
In order to do this, when Eve Labrousse-Curie, Marie Curie’s eldest daughter, whom I had the honour of meeting, left a legacy at her death in 2007 for the renovation of the Curie Museum, the Board of Directors decided to begin immediately on the required works, which respected the “soul and spirit of the place”, which was Marie Curie’s office and laboratory.
This museum, located in the Curie Wing, which was “the family home” according to Pierre Radvanyi, will not be the single location of the “site of memory” as Pierre Nora defines it, as an expression of “the collective memory.” It is just the first step. The “Source Wing”, which adjoins the other two wings, a meeting space and location of the Curie / Joliot-Curie family archives, has the potential to house it.
In view of this, after the Board of Directors’ historic meeting with Hélène Langevin-Joliot, Marie Curie’s granddaughter, in June 2012, the “Source Wing” project was adopted in April 2015, with the works planned to commence in 2017.
Nancy, July 20th, 2017
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