Research and Advanced Education
The IMM in FMUL Research
The Institute of Molecular Medicine (IMM) is an Associated Laboratory to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, and its aim is the exercise and promoting of basic and applied research activities in the area of Health Sciences. It is located on the Egas Moniz Building, and was created in November 2001 as a result of the incorporation of five FMUL research centres, the Biology and Molecular Pathology Centre (CEBIP), the Lisbon Neurosciences Centre (CNL), the Microcirculation and Vascular Biopathology Centre (CMBV), the Gastroenterology Centre (CG) and the Nutrition and Metabolism Centre (CNB), which were joined, in 2003, by the Molecular Research and Biopathology Centre (CIPM) and the Francisco Gentil Portuguese Institute of Oncology. Although it was created in 2001, it was in 2004, when it moved to the premises in the Egas Moniz building, that it began to function as a unified research unit, having as its president Professor João Lobo Antunes, as its executive director Professor Carmo-Fonseca and as vice president Professor Miguel Carneiro de Moura. In the words of Professor Lobo Antunes, the idea behind the creation of the IMM was “(…) to bring together groups from the Medical Faculty who had qualifications of First Class or Excellent in their external assessments by the Foundation for Science and Technology ( ...)”.
The IMM devotes itself to research in many areas, namely cerebral vascular diseases and neuronal degenerations (the case of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s). Besides this, the IMM researchers work on the development of experimental therapies against cancer and infectious diseases (such as AIDS, Herpes and Hepatitis C), and investigate the mechanisms that lead to resistance against anti-viral and bacterial drugs. The research work carried out at the IMM is set within three Research Programmes: Cell and Developmental Biology; Immunology and Infectious Diseases; and Neurosciences. Overall, in the IMM there are 28 Research Units, one Associated Unit, 310 Scientists (121 PhDs, 189 Non-PhDs), one International Doctoral Programme and 30 Research Projects that began in 2007 (22 of them Portuguese and 8 international). Besides the structures identified above, Professor J. Lobo Antunes also stated that the IMM has “(…) some units of technology transfer, (…) companies that are associated to the IMM. I would particularly mention Alfama and Tecnophage,(…) a molecular diagnosis unit called Genomed (…)” and he identified “(…) two units that serve as supports for research, Flow Citometry, a Bioimaging unit (…)”. The characterization of the IMM would not be complete without referring to the Information Systems Unit and the Animal Facility, in the final phase of completion.
According to Professor Lobo Antunes, “ (...) the founding of the IMM was absolutely fundamental, even decisive for the stimulation of research at the FMUL. The founding idea was to strengthen certain groups, those of Basic Science, and then to attract more clinical doctors into laboratory research, into articulation with the research programmes at a basic level, always with the idea of developing translational science of transfer, that which signifies going from the laboratory to the clinic, to the real problem of the disease.” This is the Institute’s major role, that benefits from the close relationship it maintains with Santa Maria Hospital (HSM). He also stressed that “ (...) the IMM is open to anyone who wishes to do research; all of its programmes are also aimed at GPs, and there are even units, such as the case of Oncology, the Neurosciences, Rheumatology and Immuno-Allergic Diseases, that have strong interaction with Santa Maria Hospital”. The Institute’s main aim is to exercise and promote basic and applied research activity in the area of Health Sciences.
As the IMM is connected to the FMUL, it is inevitable for one to ask about the synergy existing between the two institutions. Professor Lobo Antunes did not hesitate to state that “ (...) the connection has been perfect. The IMM has had the unconditional support of the FMUL. The FMUL has a seat on the Board of the IMM, as does the HSM, which is also a partner on the board of the Institute. Nowadays the IMM is the expression, the image of the FMUL in the research field.” Although it is true that the FMUL has always been noted for its scientific activity, both in the field of the basic sciences and the clinical sciences, occupying an outstanding position on the Portuguese panorama of health sciences, the constitution of the IMM led to the creation of conditions for the advancement of Biomedical Science and the introduction of new techniques of diagnosis and therapeutics.
When questioned about future prospects, Professor Lobo Antunes stated that “(...) the IMM has had the support of the Ministry of Science and the Foundation for Science and Technology, and has continued with a growth process that is based on a very simple principle: only contract excellent researchers. Among the latest was Professor Henrique Veiga Fernandes, who has had international recognition, received very powerful financing recently and, one might say, is the latest “star” to enter the institution.” The policy followed by the IMM, in the figure of its Executive Director, the “soul of the institution” in the words of Professor Lobo Antunes, and with his support, is only to contract the top young scientists, “(…) excellent researchers (…)”, who may to some extent grant a significantly positive contribution to the IMM. There are some areas in which our international standing is very well recognised. The institute now has several foreign researchers, which can be considered a victory given that it is very difficult to keep foreign researchers in Portugal. It has also been possible to attract some Portuguese researchers who were abroad to work with the IMM team. The Professor also points out that “ (...) our success with foreign researchers has been a somewhat limited success, but this fact has to do with the reality of research in Portugal”. Research and Development in the Biomedical Sciences has a fundamental role in medicine, and so it is a great advantage for the FMUL to be able to count on the IMM for the progress of knowledge in this area.
To finish off, it remains to divulge the motto of the IMM researchers: Investigate > Know > Innovate > Protect; and the spirit instilled in them:
“ (...) we expect everyone to do their best, knowing that the path is often difficult and demanding. But there is no other way to achieve excellence in science (...) ”
Prof. Doutor J. Lobo Antunes
Interview carried out by:
Raquel Moreira (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Susana Leal (email@example.com)
Institute of Molecular Medicine site: www.imm.ul.pt
IMM Report 2007.2008 Instituto de Medicina Molecular Faculdade de Medicina de Lisboa