“Everything we dreamt 10 years ago is now written in stone”

The first Max Planck partner institute in Latin America was inaugurated in October 2011, and consolidates as one of the top scientific institutions in the region.

Eduardo Arzt and Herbert Jäckle at IBioBa. Photo: courtesy researchers.

In May the Biomedicine Research Institute of Buenos Aires (IBioBA, CONICET-Partner Institute of the Max Planck Society) underwent its first biennial evaluation. A Scientific Advisory Board composed by world-renowned scientists, analyzed the activities of the institution, its research lines and staff to elaborate a series of recommendations.

In this interview Herbert Jäckle, Vice president of the Max Planck Society and Eduardo Arzt, Director of the IBioBA review the achievements so far and the upcoming challenges for the institution. “We care about quality, common achievements and people. In particular the next generation of scientists”, they explain.

Which do you believe are the main milestones the institute achieved since its creation?

HJ: We started pretty much ten years ago, with ideas and dreams. The idea was to establish something here together with the external scientific member and under the guidance and philosophy of the Max Planck society, simply to show that basic science is something important. And the amazing thing is that everything we dreamt 10 years ago is now written in stone. Basically, there is an institute with absolute international standards that really seeks for quality and cares about people. I would say it is somehow a light tower in Latin America, because there are so many other countries that say “We would like to have something like in Argentina, how can we do it?”. And our feeling is we really should collaborate with other countries, but the IBioBA at the Polo Cientifico is our home in Latin America.

EA: From my point of view, as Herbert mentioned, the most important milestone is that we have a true- speaking in terms of scientific quality – Max Planck institute in Argentina, jointly with the CONICET. I think the spirit of Max Planck is here and this is something we wanted and we expected it to be like this.

Which goals you plan to achieve in the coming future – both in the short and mid-term – from the scientific point of view?

HJ: Scientifically speaking, let’s talk about structure. Because from structure you can basically watch what you achieved. It is my impression, from talking with the advisory board, that they were absolutely positive and they said it is absolutely amazing what happened from starting from the first stone, so to speak, up to now. And I think in the short term it needs a consolidation. People have to get to used to it, have to learn that there is a scientific advisory board that gives advise, that is a friend of the institute – so to speak – and has a dual function: to basically tell ‘you can do better’ and how it can be done. This is a consolidation phase, but I think that after that what I would expect is to have more people.

That is to say, to incorporate more researchers and fellows?

HJ: If you go around here (at the IBioBA) it is wonderful, but it’s not crowded. The infrastructure has to increase and it also needs, and this is a long-term hope, to convince foreign researchers to come to this place. And if they do that the result is a clash of cultures, ideas and intellect.

Which is the importance the advisory board gives to this international exchange of people?

EA: The fact that the institute has still room to bring more people, and which is certainly the next step to do, is because we planned it like this. We wanted to consolidate the basis, and then grow with the plan. Of course internationalization, that is to say to be able to recruit even people from abroad, is something that is very important not only for the institute, but also for the Argentine system as well. In this sense we discussed with Roberto Salvarezza, the president of the CONICET, some instruments that we will set at the institute to achieve that. This is really something we will go for and is very important.

Did the advisory board provide any guidelines regarding scientific investigation? If so, which ones do you think are the most important?

HJ: The board gives some guidelines basically regarding quality of science and the possibility of synergies, because at the end of the day the institute stands in certain given fields. You cannot do very diverse things because then you only have individuals who stick out. We care about quality, common achievements and people, in particular the next generation of scientists. And these are young people, students, post docs. It is amazing what has been achieved in the last 3 or 4 years. They also identified people who came back from abroad, and this is already a success, because for young people to come back simply tells you something is worth. So the guideline was to basically try to shape the institute with respect to a common theme since biomedical is broad. Therefore it is important to have a little more focus, and also care about the quality and its control. And this is very difficult because basically you have friends here. You need someone from outside to say ‘this guy is not as good as this other guy, or this guy should focus more’.

EA: Concerning this point, they told us that they found very positive the selection process though a commission CONICET-Max Planck and that we should continue in this line.

Which was the role of CONICET in this board, not only as a member but also in the joint commission?

HJ: The role of the Council is not only important for the institute but has a broader role. In my view, the CONICET is very pushing, very supportive and they make a stake. It is basically a triangle: the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, CONICET and Max Planck, and each one is very important. We learnt a lot from CONICET and its scientists about how science is done in Argentina, and then we added our input and how we do it, and it is really something where we can learn from each other. We can’t say we know it all – we don’t – but we can learn from different cultures and also gives us the possibility to think whether our processes are the right ones.

EA: It is important to have all the visions in the scientific advisory board, which is composed by scientists from Max Planck, from CONICET and international research centres –which are independent from CONICET and Max Planck.

Members of the Scientific Advisory Board:

  • Prof. Dr. Aaron Ciechanover, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel.
  • Prof. Dr. Damasia Becu des Villalobos, Institute of Biology and Experimental Medicine, CONICET, Argentina.
  • Prof. Dr. Linda Partridge, Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing, Germany.
  • Prof. Dr. Luis Barbeito, Pasteur Institute of Montevideo, Uruguay.
  • Prof. Dr. Marcelo Kazanietz, University of Pennsylvania, USA.
  • Prof. Dr. Nils Brose, Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Germany.
  • Prof. Dr. Jens Brüning, Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research, Germany.
  • By Ana Belluscio.