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Prof. Alain Prochiantz: Winner of the 2011 Grand Prix Inserm

Alain Prochiantz
p. 21

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Source: La lettre, no. 33, May 2012

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1Starting with an accidental observation, it took us 20 years to convince the scientific community that we had identified a new signal transduction pathway involving some 250 proteins. Time will tell the true significance of this pathway. For now, we have been able to find it a role in axon guidance, in cellular migration and in the physiological plasticity of the cerebral cortex.

2This discovery of the intercellular movement of trans­cription factors, which went against certain dogmas, was perhaps not welcomed enthusiastically by our entire community. This is perfectly normal, and over the years we have endeavoured to answer all the questions that were raised. Some questions remain, and mistakes may have been made here and there that will have to be rectified, but I think it is fair to say that the reality of the phenomenon, as well as it functional value, are now widely recognized – even if it may still seem difficult for some to graciously reverse their position.

3There is no need to have read Canguilhem to be convinced that there is not one physiology for health and another for illness. Our work opened onto the domain of peptide vectors capable of travelling through plasma membranes, and then allowed for the proposition and validation – on animals – of original hypotheses in the field of neurological and psychia­tric diseases. Will these lead to therapeutic applications? We shall see.

4In the meantime, the study of this new signalling pathway turned towards domains that seemed miles away from our concerns, like energy metabolism or genome plasticity. The possibility of discovering new worlds at all stages of one’s career is one of the great pleasures of this profession.

5If we are to review these past 20 years, the support of the CNRS and École normale supérieure, and more recently of INSERM and Collège de France, must be underscored. It seems to me that there is a poor understanding of the full extent of the role played in the past and still today by these institutions, especially the Établissements publics à caractère scientifique et technologique (Scientific and Technological Public Institutions), in keeping our country in the club of the scientific nations that count.

6We know how much we owe to the universities and efforts in their favour should be encouraged. This however does not preclude greater and sustained support for EPSTs. Could we imagine our German friends, the first to have initiated a policy of Centres for Excellence, disarming the Max Planck Institutes?

7Reforms are needed that are sometimes resisted by overly conservative minds, but reforms that reinforce the EPSTs, not ones that weaken them. Even though the creation of the National Alliance for Life and Health Sciences is commendable, I do not think that the most recent changes in the line of funding and eva­luation point towards the desired reinforcement, nor that much has been gained. And that is an understatement.

8Finally, I’d like to thank all those who, over the years, took part in this work, despite multiple difficulties. I won't name them in case I forget someone. They know who they are.

9Apart from research structures, we should also recognize the generosity of the citizens who, through their taxes as well as donations to NGOs and foundations, support research. I would also like to thank the pharmaceutical laboratories, both small and large, which prove so useful when one is lucky enough to have developed relationships with them that are based on mutual respect for each party’s specificities. Not to forget all the staff who, in virtually systematically difficult conditions, allow for our research to maintain the necessary scientific level in a nation that believes in its future. Among them, my thoughts particularly go out to our young colleagues, students and post-docs.

10For biology, the ATIP-AVENIR programmes now allow junior researchers to set up a team independently and under conditions that would have been a dream for researchers of my generation. That is, however, provided one can make it to that point through a difficult journey.

11More generally, how can we think about attracting the best towards our professions when, with 15 years of higher education, they are faced with the recruitment conditions and career prospects we all know? Except for soldier monks, but those are becoming rare. Raising awareness of the need to renew our scien­tific elites has become a matter of urgency, and it is not certain that the annual science festival is a response that can meet the challenge. Again, something of an understatement.

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Alain Prochiantz, « Prof. Alain Prochiantz: Winner of the 2011 Grand Prix Inserm  », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 7 | 2015, mis en ligne le 29 octobre 2015, consulté le 14 décembre 2018. URL :

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