Expanding international collaboration at IFOM

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Published: 21 Nov 2012
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Prof Marco Foiani – IFOM – University of Milan, Italy

The director of IFOM, Prof Marco Foiani, discusses recent developments in international collaboration with institutes in Japan, Singapore and Italy, as well as highlights from the IFOM-Kyoto University Joint Symposium in Milan.

IFOM is an Italian institution which is supported by the Italian Foundation for Cancer Research. The main branch is in Milan but we have also an outstation in Turin. At one point we decided to expand our institution into Asia, having interaction with Asian institutions and in particular we opened two outstations, one in Singapore, in A*STAR, and another one in Bangalore in India. So the goal was at the beginning to interact with top institutions and to build up the critical mass which otherwise would have been impossible in Milan. Both institutions, the A*STAR in Singapore and NCBS and inStem in Bangalore, have similar goals, scientific goals, and we found lots of collaborations already with them. So the idea is to foster real interactions and to synergise as much as we can.

Since we started we already have a benefit because lots of students are coming to our laboratory from Asian countries and there’s an exchange programme between scientists, technologies and so on. So overall, the operation started a couple of years ago, we are very pleased with these benefits really.

You’re trying to increase the collaboration into Japan?

Yes, in fact this meeting, the idea of this meeting was to put together IFOM scientists and scientists from the outstations in Singapore and Bangalore with a delegation of the Kyoto Medical School. We have already been in Kyoto a couple of years ago and the whole idea is to create a similar operation in Kyoto, similar to the one in Singapore and in Bangalore. Practically speaking, what we do, we create a joint research lab in these countries, so it’s a junior group leader which has a dual affiliation with IFOM and A*STAR or NCBS or Kyoto and everything is supported 50% by IFOM and 50% by the local institution. So the idea is not to hegemonize in anything, it is just really to synergise as much as we can.

At the moment we have two group leaders, one in Singapore, one in Bangalore, and the idea will be to advertise a position also in Kyoto in the next future. Of course we are working on the protocol and memorandum of intent still.

What does Italian science have to gain with this interaction?

A lot because unfortunately Italy has several problems. We have problems in attracting non-Italian scientists to work in our country; we are doing everything possible to be attractive as an institution but this is not related to the institute itself, it’s really related to Italy as a country. We did several analyses, including a survey between Italian scientists and, let’s say, the foreign scientists working in Italy and overall the situation is the following. So when they come here and work for four years, five years, that’s fine but it’s difficult to attract non-Italian scientists to come here with their families. So because of that we decided to go abroad and IFOM, thanks to FIRC, is investing 10% of its budget in this operation and the return is immense because, as I said, apart from the cultural exchange we can already synergise in terms of investments. Just to give you an idea, we are collaborating with the Bangalore Bioinformatics Centre where we send the data there and they send the analysis back. In that way for us we don’t have to invest in certain core facility for bioinformatics. This is the kind of operation we are looking for.

This is the first symposium between IFOM and Asia. We already had some workshops before but the idea now would be to start a series of symposia and rotating them in different countries. So starting in Milan, next year very likely it’s going to be in Singapore, then Bangalore and then hopefully in Japan. I have to say that since we started other countries in Asia became very interested in our operation and lots of things are going on in Asia. Jut to give you an idea, in Taiwan in Taipei there’s a fantastic institution, Academia Sinica, with whom we would like to interact as well. Hong Kong University, Beijing University, so these are certainly potential locations for the next meetings. But the operation in IFOM is really confined to Singapore, Bangalore and Japan.

What was the topic of this meeting?

This meeting is focussed on cancer mechanisms, it was a starting meeting. In the next future there will be an international committee that will decide a topic every time. So everything that is related to cancer is interesting to us. IFOM has a more, let’s say, focus on the fundamental mechanism of cancer development. We invested in an exhibition of translational science and that will be an opportunity to exchange experience with the other institutions. So these meetings are really instrumental for this goal. The next one is going to be in Singapore, it will be organised by David Lane and we still have to decide on which kind of topic though.