Sci. Aging Knowl. Environ., 9 January 2002
Vol. 2002, Issue 1, p. nw2
[DOI: 10.1126/sageke.2002.1.nw2]


Reviving Biomedicine: New Basel institute tackles aging and aims to bolster Swiss research (Research funding)

Giselle Weiss;2002/1/nw2

Key Words: Switzerland • BIDA • Basel Institute for Diseases of Aging

Abstract: The Alps have protected the Swiss from centuries of invaders, but even the towering mountains can't shield them from aging. Over the next 50 years, the number of people in industrialized nations aged 65 and over is expected to double, and Switzerland is no exception. Although the snowy passes won't keep away old age, a new Swiss institute aims to take on the scientific and societal challenges associated with the demographic change. On 29 November 2001, Gian-Reto Plattner, vice rector of the University of Basel, announced the formation of the Basel Institute for Diseases of Aging (BIDA), which will dedicate itself to investigating the biology of growing old.

The institute was conceived in December 2000, when a group of biochemistry and medical researchers from the Novartis Research Foundation's Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel phoned the vice rector. They wanted to "do something," he says, to focus the considerable science and technology expertise in Basel and the surrounding region, which has been feeling the impact of a spate of negative developments, including last year's closing of the Basel Institute for Immunology and a pronounced exodus of scientists. A brainstorming session led to the idea of a center of excellence in biomedical research. The group hoped to combine the region's strengths--a university, teaching hospitals, and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies--to address a topic that is "scientifically novel and interesting and [that] at the same time somehow touches society's interest in a strong way," says Plattner. Aging topped the list of potential areas of study, and BIDA was born.

BIDA will operate as an independent, nonprofit research institution associated with the University of Basel. In addition, BIDA will partner with the rest of the biomedical research community in the area to develop a comprehensive science and technology network that will strengthen research and promote economic growth. This group will coordinate resources such as tissue banks, bioinformatics services, facilities for studying animals that model human diseases, and molecular and cellular imaging systems--and negotiate arrangements for their shared use.

Rather than study geriatric diseases per se, BIDA will focus on the conditions that predispose people to these disorders, many of which begin well before old age takes hold. The institute's research will home in on degenerative processes, for example, such as cancer metastasis and the neurodegeneration of Alzheimer's disease.

The full-grown BIDA will comprise about 20 to 25 research groups totaling roughly 300 researchers. Local government, the University of Basel, and the Novartis Research Foundation provided seed money for a feasibility study and a planning phase. The institute itself will require an additional initial investment of approximately 100 million Swiss francs (US$61.2 million) for building and equipment, plus yearly operating costs of about 40 million Swiss francs (US$24.5 million).

The target date for completion of the institute is roughly 2008. But if all goes well, the institute will begin to operate in 2003 on rented premises, says Plattner. BIDA has assembled a star-studded council to hit up public and private sources for the money still required to launch the project. The council includes Nobel laureates, the former head of the Union Bank of Switzerland, and other leaders from government, science, and industry. "We will try to be a little bit American in the way it's done," says Plattner, referring to optimism, enthusiasm, and willingness to go after private money. "Whether that works with Swiss people, we have to find out."

--Giselle Weiss

Further Reading

• Swiss National Science Foundation

• Friedrich Miescher Institute

• Biozentrum at the University of Basel

Citation: G. Weiss, Reviving Biomedicine: New Basel institute tackles aging and aims to bolster Swiss research (Research funding). Science's SAGE KE (9 January 2002),;2002/1/nw2

Science of Aging Knowledge Environment. ISSN 1539-6150