Pasteur Institute

The Pasteur Institute (French: Institut Pasteur) is a French non-profit private foundation dedicated to the study of biology, microorganisms, diseases and vaccines. It is named after Louis Pasteur, its founder and first director and who, in 1885 had successfully developed the first antirabies serum. It was founded in June 4th, 1887 and inaugurated in November 14th, 1888.

For over a century, the Pasteur Institute has been at the forefront of the battle against infectious disease. This worldwide biomedical research organization based in Paris was first to isolate HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 1983. Over the years, it has been responsible for breakthrough discoveries that have enabled medical science to control such virulent diseases as diphtheria, tetanus, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, influenza, yellow fever and plague. Since 1908, eight Pasteur Institute scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology.

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Pasteur Institute on its inaugurarion day, 1888. Source: Pasteur Institute


The Pasteur Institute was founded in 1887 by Louis Pasteur, the French scientist whose early experiments with fermentation led to pioneering research in bacteriology. A giant in science, Pasteur discovered the principle of sterilization which came to be known as "pasteurization." His discoveries led to the universal practice of surgical antisepsis. He also developed techniques of vaccination to control bacterial infection, as well as a successful vaccine to treat rabies.

Louis Pasteur was committed both to basic research and its practical applications. As soon as his institute was created, Pasteur brought together scientists with various specialities. The first five departments were directed by two normaliens (graduates of the Ecole Normale Supérieure): Emile Duclaux (general microbiology research) and Charles Chamberland (microbe research applied to hygiene), as well as a biologist, Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov (morphological microbe research) and two physicians, Joseph Grancher (rabies) and Emile Roux (technical microbe research). One year after the inauguration of the Pasteur Institute, Roux set up the first course of microbiology ever taught in the world, then entitled Cours de Microbie Technique (Course of microbe research techniques).

Pasteur's successors have sustained this tradition, and it is reflected in the Pasteur Institute's unique history of accomplishment:

A new age of preventive medicine in France was made possible by such developments from the Pasteur Institute as vaccines for tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, yellow fever, poliomyelitis, and hepatitis B. The discovery and use of sulfonamides in treating infections was another breakthrough. Some researchers will win fame by discovering antitoxins and Daniel Bovet received the 1957 Nobel Prize for his discoveries on synthetic anti-histamines and curarizing compounds.

Since World War II, Pasteur researchers have sharply focused on molecular biology. Their achievements were recognized in 1965, when the Nobel Prize was shared by François Jacob, Jacques Monod and André Lwoff for their work on the regulation of viruses. In 1985, the first human vaccine obtained by genetic engineering from animal cells, the vaccine against hepatitis B, was developed by Pierre Tiollais and colaborators.

Pasteur Institute today

Today, the Pasteur Institute is one of the world's leading research centers; it houses 100 research units and close to 2,700 people, including 500 permanent scientists and another 600 scientists visiting from 70 countries annually. The Pasteur Institute is also a global network of 24 foreign institutes devoted to medical problems in developing countries; a graduate study center and an epidemiological screening unit.

The international network is present in the following cities and countries:

Research Centers

The Pasteur Institute Paris has twelve research departments:

In addition to the isolation of HIV-1 and HIV-2, in the recent past researchers at the Pasteur Institute have developed a test for the early detection of colon cancer, produced a genetically engineered vaccine against hepatitis B and a rapid diagnostic test for the detection of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium which is implicated in the formation of stomach ulcers. Other research in progress includes the study of cancer and specifically the investigation of the role of oncogenes, the identification of tumor markers for diagnostic tests and the development of new treatments. One area of particular interest is the study of human papilloma viruses (HPV) and their role in cervical cancers. Researchers are currently focusing on the development of various vaccines against many diseases including AIDS, malaria, dengue and the Shigella bacterium.

Currently, an extensive line of research aims at determining the complete genome sequences of several organisms of medical importance, in the hope of finding new therapeutic approaches. The Institute has contributed to genome-sequencing projects of the common yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an organism which was so important for Louis Pasteur's history), completed in 1996, Bacillus subtilis completed in 1997, Mycobacterium tuberculosis completed in 1998.

Teaching Center

Since its founding, the Pasteur Institute has brought together scientists from many different disciplines for postgraduate study. Today, approximately 300 graduate students and 500 postdoctoral trainees from close to 40 different countries participate in postgraduate study programs at the Institute. They include pharmacists and veterinarians, as well as doctors, chemists and other scientists.

Epidemiological Reference Center

Strains of bacteria and viruses from many different countries are sent to the Institute's reference center for identification. In addition to maintaining this vital epidemiological resource, the Institute serves as advisor to the French government and the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations. Pasteur scientists also help to monitor epidemics and control outbreaks of infectious diseases throughout the world. These activities have created a close collaboration between the Institute and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Vaccines and Diagnostic Products

Production and marketing of diagnostic tests developed in the Institute laboratories are the responsibility of Sanofi Diagnostics Pasteur, a subsidiary of the French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, while production and marketing of vaccines are the responsibility of Pasteur Mérieux, Sérums et Vaccins.

Structure and Support

As a private, non-profit organization, the Pasteur Institute is governed by an independent Board of Directors, currently chaired by Bernard Esambert, vice-president of Groupe Bolloré Technologies and president of Bank Arjil. The Director General of the Pasteur Institute is Philippe Kourilsky.

By drawing financial support from many different sources, the Institute protects its autonomy and guarantees the independence of its scientists. The Institute's funding includes French government subsidies, consulting fees, licensing royalties, contract revenue and private contributions.

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