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A Unique Research Center in Paris

A Unique Research Center in Paris - © institut-ICM_72dpi_1920

Once you've entered the grounds of the Pitié-Salpêtrière University Hospital Center (CHU) in the heart of Paris, you'll have to take a few side roads before arriving at a modern, multi-storied building, made entirely of glass and transparency. Welcome to the Paris Brain Institute, a scientific and medical research center of excellence, which was established in Paris in 2010 and is dedicated to the study of the brain and spinal cord. Top researchers from all over the world carry out cutting-edge neuroscience research here.

Interview with Dafni Hadjieconomou, head of the “Gut Sense Lab” team, and Bassem Hassan, Inserm research director and head of the “Brain Development” team.

Dafni Hadjieconomou, from the brain to the gut


I grew up between Greece and Cyprus, and studied molecular biology and genetics at university. When I discovered neuroscience, and in particular everything to do with how the brain works, it was love at first sight! I moved to London to continue my studies and it was there that I started working on fly genetics. At the end of my doctoral studies, I became interested in the intestinal nervous system, and particularly in brain-gut communication.

Since September 2023

I joined the Brain Institute in September 2023 as the team leader of the “Gut Sense Lab”. What's unique about the Paris Brain Institute is this combination of theoretical and clinical research, which allows us to confront our research with the questions of our medical colleagues, who help us to move forward considerably. It's also a place where we have a great deal of freedom to conduct our research, which is extremely important.

Life in Paris

I love Paris and I'm very happy to work and live here, even if moving a family is always a bit complicated! The administrative side of things isn't always easy to navigate, but it always gets sorted out in the end. When you have young children and have lived in London, which is my case, you find that Paris offers a very pleasant and affordable quality of life. In London, childcare is very expensive and sometimes requires one of the parents - often the wife - to stay at home to look after them. Here in France, work and family life are in balance, and it's much more fulfilling.


At the Institute, I'm working on gut neurons from a molecular point of view with fruit flies. With these insects, we can study the impact of a single gene, in a single neuron, at a precise moment in the insect's life. The team's studies focus in particular on how our life choices are intrinsically linked to this communication between the gut and the brain. There are already studies on flies which show that exercise is beneficial to them, but nobody really knows how this is expressed at the molecular level. Conversely, in the case of a high-sugar diet that leads to obesity in the animal, we want to identify which cell types, in the brain or the gut, are involved in this phenomenon. Our aim is to identify the fundamental mechanisms used by gut neurons to regulate metabolism or, conversely, contribute to the onset of disease.

Bassem Hassan, research and diversity


I was born in Germany and when I was a child, my parents moved back to their homeland, Lebanon. The following year, civil war broke out in the country. After graduating from high school, I went to study in the United States, where I stayed for over ten years to do my doctorate and post-doctorate. I then spent fifteen years in Belgium, at the VIB Center for the Biology of Disease in Leuven. I've always worked on the nervous system in general, and the brain in particular. In 2016, I had the opportunity to come and work here, where I lead a team of researchers on brain development. For 5 years, I was also Scientific Director and Director of Technology Platforms.

International dimension

Right from the start, the Institutes's ambition was to become an international reference center, and that's what appealed to me right away! The progress we've made since then proves it: today we have over 600 employees, 45 different nationalities and 27 research teams. I believe that this international dimension and diversity are essential to achieving excellence in an environment like ours: when you hire foreign-trained researchers from different backgrounds, you know that they will think differently, mentor their students in a different way, and inspire other researchers to join them. That makes a huge difference! A closed environment inevitably becomes inward-looking and is unable to generate new ideas over time. On the contrary, by diversifying viewpoints and teams, you multiply your chances of making new discoveries and pushing your thinking even further.

The mysterious brain

By bringing together patients, doctors, researchers and engineers in a single location, the institute aims to develop treatments for nervous system disorders as quickly as possible. We still have a lot to learn about the way it works and the pathologies that are currently a huge public health issue: Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, multiple sclerosis, depression, epilepsy, Charcot's disease, etc. To better understand these disorders, we need to examine the brain from all angles. And at the Paris Brain Institute, we're very lucky to be able to ask new questions every day.

Life in Paris

I'm a big fan of Paris! I love walking along the Seine and in the streets, discovering the many neighborhoods where you can always find a very good bakery, a typical grocer, a butcher's shop or an excellent cheese shop. Culture is everywhere in this city, and in an accessible way. There are plays that have been performed for years that you can only find here! Even in New York, you can't get that!



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