October 5th, 2010 marked the official opening of the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (http://www.fchampalimaud.org/care-research/champlimaud-centre/), a new institute where clinicians and basic scientists will work together in the areas of cancer and neuroscience research. The centre is located in Lisbon, bringing Portugal into view for the global scientific community as a leader in translational research.

The Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown is named in part after its founder, Portuguese businessman and billionaire Antonio de Sommer Champalimaud (1918–2004), and in part for its location near the historically significant Tower of Belém in Lisbon: it is from this area that 15th and 16th century ships reportedly set sail on voyages to explore ‘the unknown’. So, the name of the centre reflects the parallel between the challenging quests of these early pioneers and of modern-day scientists. From a distance, the centre even resembles a ship, tilting into the water towards the unique site at which the River Tagus meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Up close, the facilities of the centre are world-class, designed to attract the best scientists and clinicians in the world. The centre houses a large cancer clinic, as well as laboratories for clinical and basic research focussed on cancer and neuroscience. An important emphasis at the centre is to promote translational approaches, which it encourages both through the characteristics of its infrastructure (see below) and its design: clinical and laboratory areas are open to each other, encouraging exchange between clinical activities and basic research. In particular, the aim of the Champalimaud Cancer Centre, currently directed by Raghu Kalluri, of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, is to make progress in metastatic cancer translational research.

International recruitment of investigators to the centre is ongoing. Thus far, ∼15 neuroscience investigators previously working at locations such as the National Institutes of Health, Cold Spring Harbour and Harvard Medical School are involved, with many others coming from European institutes. Clinician scientists are particularly interested in employment opportunities at the Champalimaud Cancer Centre owing to highly competitive salaries that provide protected time for research. Dr Kalluri comments: “The Champalimaud Cancer Centre made a decision early on that clinicians at the centre seeing patients would have 50% protected time to do research – basic research, clinical research, epidemiological research – while being paid as a clinician... because the goal of the Champalimaud Foundation is really to foster thinking that is aligned between clinician scientists and basic scientists – to create a bridge. So, it’s not just wishing for the translational emphasis, but putting the finances in place to make it happen.”

The Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown is also actively recruiting graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and junior group leaders. The Champalimaud Neuroscience Centre and its associated graduate programme have been operational for ∼2 years and, until the official opening of the centre on October 5th, were housed in rented space at the Gulbenkian Institute de Ciência in Lisbon. The graduate programme associated with the Champalimaud Cancer Centre will begin taking applications for prospective Master’s and PhD students at the beginning of 2011, and is likely to become associated with the University of Lisbon in the near future. Finally, the centre hopes to attract more junior group leaders, and is currently taking steps to identify the strongest candidates among highly successful students who are nearing the end of their PhDs.

Beyond its scientific importance, the centre’s design has also caught the attention of architects around the world. The bid to design the site was won by Indian architect Charles Correa (http://www.charlescorrea.net/), who also designed the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The centre features a large interior rainforest connecting clinics and laboratories, chemotherapy suites with gardens, and many areas open for public use, including exhibition halls, an outdoor amphitheatre and landscaped walking areas. It is hoped that the location of the centre in the heart of Lisbon, as well as the openness of the site to the public, will encourage awareness of the centre and the Champalimaud Foundation (http://www.fchampalimaud.org/home/), as well as the health and medical issues that their work is aiming to address.

Excerpts from an interview with Raghu Kalluri can be heard in the podcast associated with DMM Vol. 3 Issue 11/12 at http://www.biologists.com/DMM/podcasts/index.html

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