The momentous challenges generated by rapid climate change are currently making us question the fundamentals of our collective organisations and ways of life. The urgency to transition away from
Health and well-being
Placed in a large-scale perspective, recent progress in health and well-being has been nothing short of astounding. However, in light of modern research, health is being viewed not just through the lens of traditional medicine but in a broader paradigm that spans from the molecule to the planet. And yet, many diverse, new or persistent challenges remain unresolved, as recalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the plateauing of human life expectancy witnessed in many countries, or the persistence of large health inequities among populations.
The research community is called to invent new approaches to issues sharing a common feature: their radical interdisciplinarity, as they mobilise a number of scientific fields from biology and chemistry to sociology and economics, material sciences or mathematics. Today, the health sector is not merely about medicine; it has become a platform where various disciplinary fields come together.
The contributions of Université Paris-Saclay, both in research, education and innovation, are directly related to tackling a series of major diseases, from cancer, cardiovascular diseases, immune and infectious diseases, neurological disorders, hepatic and metabolic diseases, major depressive disorders, up to rare diseases. They are also directly relevant to other pressing concerns such as mental health up to psychiatric diseases, ageing, notably through expertise in the range of neurodegenerative and inflammatory diseases, but also nutrition or the quality of life in conditions of disabilities.
Université Paris-Saclay is well placed to take part in these momentous challenges:
- It has a considerable scientific community in the core disciplines - medicine, pharmacy, biology, health sciences, chemistry.
- A strong centre of epidemiology research, of which it is one of the historical birthplaces (in Villejuif), it adds consolidated expertise in public health with a social sciences perspective, to the core disciplines.
- It actively cultivates interfaces with a whole range of relevant disciplines, notably:
- Mathematics and computer science, to bring the capacities in modelling, simulation and big data analysis which are required by contemporary health challenges.
- Engineering and material science, to push forward new medical devices, implants, prosthetics, and treatments.
- Social sciences, to broaden the approach to health encompassing social, cultural, economic and political factors.
- It is at the heart of many large-scale, nationally supported initiatives, totalling multi-million funding over ten years: university hospital institute on sepsis (IHU), several national programmes in health (notably on biotherapies and innovative therapies; emerging infectious diseases; food systems, microbiome and health; digital health), the Paris-Saclay Cancer Cluster, etc.
- Finally, it benefits from extensive pioneering infrastructure. Université Paris-Saclay is home to world-leading teaching and research hospital facilities, renowned cancer centres, and leading medical-surgical centres. It can also rely on more than 100 specialised platforms with advanced equipment, adapted to the characterisation of potential therapeutic targets, genomic analyses or molecular screening through innovative imaging techniques, allowing for the study of the continuum from the molecular scale to the individual. It also benefits from the maintenance of many cohorts for longitudinal studies.
Our academic focus in the interconnected realms of health and well-being is effectively illustrated through our publications records. The diagram shows, for Université Paris-Saclay’s publication relevant for this challenge, the share of the respective disciplines.
ACTIVE FOCUS AREAS RELATED TO THIS CHALLENGE AT UNIVERSITÉ PARIS-SACLAY
Understanding the fundamental mechanisms behind health and pathology. Therapeutic advances today rely largely on our capacity to understand the underlying mechanisms at the molecular level. In particular, the new rise of precision medicine is made possible because of this ever-improving capacity to reach and understand molecular and cellular events. The teams at Université Paris-Saclay bring the combined expertise in molecular modelling, chemistry, synthetic biology, molecular and cellular biology, omic sciences, pharmacology and toxicology, which are necessary to reap the benefits from new approaches. They benefit from a strong basis of biological research with a wide diversity of experimental models such as: mammals, insects, nematodes, microorganisms, and plants. These research lines aiming at deciphering the most minute mechanisms of life rely on cutting-edge technological platforms in optical imaging, mass spectroscopy, high-flow sequencing, and biophysics. The proximity with the synchrotron SOLEIL is a key asset as it offers a last-generation electron cryo-microscope, essential to advance structural biology. Another important field of expertise of Université Paris-Saclay at that level lies with its large microbiology community (more than 100 research teams), going from the study of microorganisms to microbial communities and microbiota. Furthermore, another domain where Université Paris-Saclay is contributing to our understanding of the fundamental conditions of health and pathology is that of neurosciences: with two highly recognised institutes (NeuroPSI and NeuroSpin), the teams at Université Paris- Saclay study brain functioning from the molecular level to the neuronal circuit level and from basic to clinical aspects.
Emerging frontiers in synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is an emerging science that combines biology, mathematics, computer science, physics and chemistry to design new applications in biotechnology and health. Within Université Paris-Saclay, our teams work on the development of active design and machine learning tools, innovative bioactive molecules and microbial chassis. However, despite the advancements of this field, the major socio-economic challenges in synthetic biology concern applications in: (i) programmable medicine with a living/electronic interface for diagnosis and treatment, the synthesis of new compounds, and the design of innovative biosensors for disease detection; (ii) bio-manufacturing, including living/materials interfaces (e.g. living materials that repair themselves) and the engineering of cell-free systems; (iii) digital tools for a change of scale in the bioengineering of biological circuits, including design tools, machine learning, and the automation of the Design-Build-Test-Learn (DBTL) cycle; and in the longer term (iv) artificial design of microbiomes for the benefit (e.g. protection against disease) of the host organism. A more global vision of synthetic biology is needed to meet these challenges.
Identifying and validating new therapeutic targets. Based on this expertise in the underlying mechanisms of pathologies, the teams at Université Paris-Saclay are actively engaged in the identification of new therapeutic targets, by combining knowledge in pharmacology, therapeutic chemistry, antibodies engineering, molecular and cellular biology, genetics, nanomedicines for drug delivery and drug targeting. Université Paris-Saclay teams are particularly strong in the upstream part of the chain, involving the research and validation of targets, screening, structural analysis and medicinal chemistry. Cancer research, specifically immunotherapy, personalised cancer treatment and radiotherapy, are major areas of strength at Université Paris-Saclay. These areas of strength are enhanced by therapeutic trials, high-level publications which include work on the links between the efficacy and toxicity of anti-cancer immunotherapies and the microbiota, the links between therapeutic response and advances in imaging and artificial intelligence, projects on the toxicity of new anti-cancer drugs developed and research into paediatric oncology.
Creating the conditions for translational research, innovative therapies, clinical research and advanced medical devices. Université Paris-Saclay actively associates academic and clinical staff to ensure a bidirectional flow of knowledge, from fundamental research to the patient and vice versa, promoting a strong continuum “from bench to bedside”. The aim is to produce new ways to address currently unmet societal needs (rare diseases, chronic diseases, transmissible and non-transmissible diseases), to unlock the promises of precision medicine and to develop pharmacogenomics. In a context where regulations on medical devices are increasingly stringent, the teams at Université Paris-Saclay can access cutting-edge platforms for physical and chemical analyses which enable them to understand the biocompatibility of implantable medical devices. The challenge in this respect is for fundamental research to go hand-in-hand with clinical research and regulations to support industrial partners and health authorities in their need to evaluate medical devices throughout their life cycle, from design to commercialisation and use.
The COVID-19 crisis showed how crucial it was to rapidly develop diagnosis and therapeutic approaches and make them widely accessible. It emphasised how deeply challenging it was to share solutions with developing countries and in general ensure a general access to health. It also revealed the gaps in our understanding of the interactions between pathogens and immunity - all the more concerning that new viral emergence is likely and antibiotic resistance increases. Infectious diseases are, however, just one example among many of the need to strengthen translational research. Other obvious examples include cancer, in particular to test the promises of immunotherapies or targeted therapies, as well as neurological and hepatic diseases, where teams are exploring the possibility to repair and regenerate tissues and cells. The teams at Université Paris-Saclay are heavily involved in clinical trials in order to measure and characterise the pharmacodynamic effects of active molecules in the human body, to assess their pharmacokinetic features, and to evaluate both their biological and clinical innocuity and efficiency. Such clinical trials rely notably on the cohorts and registries controlled by the hospital services, the clinical research centres and the clinical research units within the perimeter of Université Paris-Saclay.
Another particularly relevant area of development for innovative therapies and medical devices in Université Paris-Saclay lies in the capacity to create synergies between the community of material scientists, nanoscientists and health scientists to produce advances in medical devices. This collaboration promotes advancements in medical devices. Furthermore, the interface of health with computer science and bio-manufacturing opens up promising avenues for innovation, leveraging synthetic biology and exploring biomaterials potential. These various activities in the domain of therapeutic innovation and medical devices are leading to an intense activity of technology transfer and start-up creation, which is supported by the various technology transfer support services in the area of Saclay, as well as by competitiveness clusters. The dense network of economic partners contributes to the success of technology transfer, with collaborations with national and international pharmaceutical companies and many biotechnology companies.
Applying a multidisciplinary approach to public health and life-circumstance well-being. Université Paris-Saclay is one of the cradles of French epidemiology and health research. Today, it is home to a very large community in the domain, which leads multidisciplinary research ranging from epidemiology, clinical research, and biostatistics to social sciences and humanities. They cultivate an integrative perspective which combines fundamental biological phenomena with environmental aspects, as well as a concern for social inequalities and culture. This research notably benefits from large-scale studies and data collections and resorts to a wide range of methods including large-scale statistical techniques and bioinformatics.
An important dimension of the work conducted in this respect at Université Paris-Saclay deals with the ethical issues raised by medical and scientific advances in public health. Future challenges include notably the integration of the spectacular progress in the exploitation of large-scale data sets, including through the use of artificial intelligence. Another key issue requiring a strong multidisciplinary approach is the chronicisation of diseases, as well as the growing impact of environmental risk factors. A third such momentous challenge deals with the need for regulation evolution which systematically appears with advances in care and requires the combined efforts of pharmacologists, health care specialists, jurists, political scientists, economists, etc. All these challenges make it absolutely necessary to increase synergies between methods and disciplines to support the quick evolution of research questions.
In line with this, Université Paris-Saclay’s research teams are strongly committed to leveraging their comprehensive understanding of diseases and pathologies to improve well-being in diverse life circumstances. This includes addressing challenges such as ageing, disability, and ergonomics. The aim is to promote a multidimensional quality of life, whether that means preserving well-being as populations age, encouraging physical activity, improving workplace conditions, or developing means to compensate for disabilities. Two key lines of development in this respect include (1) the integration of health sciences with humanities and social sciences; (2) the research in the area of human-machine interaction through user-centred methods, with applications ranging from the training of social skills for children on the autistic spectrum, to motivational applications for back-pain or diabetic patients.
Accelerating our understanding of global health challenges. Université Paris-Saclay is actively supporting the recent attention to the “global” dimensions of health, which articulates its human, animal, vegetal and ecological aspects. The university notably benefits in this respect from the expertise of research teams coming from economics and management sciences, which are studying the economy and management of the health sector, territorial health policies, as well as the articulation between nutrition and health from a political and social point of view. Our understanding of the preconditions of health, therefore, extends to that of the management of health institutions and of the underlying factors explaining health inequalities. This emphasis placed on global health is particularly relevant to prevent zoonosesand pandemics. The teams at Université Paris-Saclay are also actively contributing to the “one health” paradigm, notably by setting up a new health clinic in France dedicated to health law, biotechnology law and the law of living organisms.
HUB PASREL: A NETWORK TO PROMOTE CLINICAL TRANSFER
The PASREL Hub aims to support the projects of laboratory and industrial partners, by connecting them to relevant resources (experts, academic or industrial partners, valorisation structures, etc.) and by facilitating tests in a hospital environment.
It also aims to develop training at the interface of technology and medicine and to reflect on the professions of tomorrow, in conjunction with caregivers and manufacturers.
More information: https://www.pasrel.universite-paris-saclay.fr/en/the-pasrel-hub/
THE EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY ALLIANCE FOR GLOBAL HEALTH (EUGLOH)
EUGLOH is a strategic partnership between Université Paris-Saclay and eight other universities across Europe in the context of the European Commission’s European Universities Initiative.
Within the EUGLOH alliance, part of the main aims are in establishing a long-term strategic alliance focused on the pursuit of excellence in the field of global health across nine diverse and complementary partner institutions located in all four corners of Europe (North, South, East, West).
It also focuses on acting as a driving force in solving global health challenges ranging from public health, emerging diseases, climate change and environmental hazards to digital technologies and predictive, preventive, participative and personalised medicine.
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