From Foundation to Today

CIBM from the beginning to today: a roundtable with its founders*

* This text has been extracted from the full responses of participants. For the complete text please visit: /roundtable2015


  • Patrick Aebischer – President of Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) 
  • Dominique Arlettaz – President of University of Lausanne (UNIL)  
  • Bertrand Levrat – General manager of Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) 
  • Pierre-François Leyvraz – Lausanne University hospital (CHUV) | 
  • Pierre Magistretti – Full professor, EPFL, UNIL, UNIGE 
  • Giorgio Margaritondo – Former vice-president of academic a airs at the EPFL 
  • Leenaards & Louis-Jeantet Foundations

CIBM is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. For this occasion and to better understand the history and the vision behind its creation, we have interviewed people who had an active role in founding CIBM. We thank them all for their time and sharing their vision with us. Also, we would like to thank the Leenaard and Louis Jeantet foundations for their substantial support in the creation of the center. 


How was the idea of creating a center for biomedical imaging born? What was the vision and objectives at that time?

Jean-Dominique Vassalli: “In the context of the Geneva University and Hospital, the need for a very significant reinforcement in biomedical imaging was first underlined more than 15 years ago by the head of radiology, François Terrier. To ensure that research could be carried out in parallel with high quality clinical activity, at a time when the private sector was rapidly acquiring major radiodiagnostic facilities, a decisive effort was mandatory. “

Dominique Arlettaz: “Within the framework of the ‘Projet Triangulaire’ among UNIL, UNIGE and EPFL, it was decided to use the resources freed from the transfer of basic sciences from UNIL to EPFL in order to further develop life sciences and human and social sciences. This was the origin of the Center for Integrative Genomics (CIG) and the Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM). Therefore, the intention to establish a true collaboration in neurosciences between UNIL, UNIGE and EPFL – as well as CHUV and HUG – was the origin of CIBM; as the best way to advocate this collaboration was to develop a common imaging infrastructure. “

Pierre Magistretti: “I received a short note from the vice-president of research at the time, Walter Wahli, asking me if I could design a project for the establishment of an imaging platform in the Lake Geneva region. The challenge was interesting; I formed a group of international experts, Professors Frackowiak (Dean of Queen Square in London), Raichle (Washington University) and Ugurbil (University of Wisconsin), asking them to come with a multi-site and multi-institutional project. We had meetings with various potential users and with university authorities and I submitted a report in spring 2003. The structure of the CIBM essentially reflects the content of this report. “

Why was a regional effort around Lake Geneva created in the field of biomedical imaging?

Giorgio Margaritondo: “The reason was obvious: biology and medicine were already very strong at the UNIL, and the EPFL had recently launched its new biology school and its bioengineering activities. Imaging techniques are an essential ingredient of these domains. They were already very strong in Switzerland, notably due to the Nobel works of Ernst and Wüthrich. But Western Switzerland had been trailing Zürich and Basel. There was now a chance to bring Lausanne and Geneva to the same level, and CIBM was the instrument.”

Pierre-François Leyvraz: “This heavy infrastructure [CIBM] needed pooling of scientific and financial efforts. This regional collaboration allowed us, in particular, to bring together the right people. On the scale of our small Lake Geneva region, this collaboration made perfect sense. “

Patrick Aebischer: “We wanted a coherent multi-level approach from mouse to patient. Technological infrustructures are important tools for inter-institutional coordination, bringing together collaborators from research labs and the clinical environment. Platforms must also be flexible enough to allow for local specificity; in this case the research leadership is at EPFL, with the clinical lead at HUG and CHUV. Finally, such platforms are costly to build and run and we were able to secure both public funding and generous donations from two regional foundations, Leenards and Louis-Jeantet.”

How do you evaluate the role of CIBM in biomedical research today?

Jean-Dominique Vassali: “Ever since the early days, the mission of the CIBM has been to contribute to the emergence of a coherent biomedical imaging landscape along the Lemanic Arc, with emphasis both on the fundamental aspects of the field and its translational perspectives. In fact, CIBM was the pioneer of a series of similar endeavors, which aim to bring together the most up-to-date equipment together with a pool of highly qualified experts, irrespective of institutional boundaries and for the general benefit of the academic and medical institutions of the region. The least that can be said is that the pioneer has not only paved the way, it has also done extremely well on its own account!”

Betrand Levrat : “The CIBM gathers together the activities in the field of research in current biomedical imaging in the [Lake Geneva] region and makes them visible nationally and internationally, provides the researchers access to a multidisciplinary scientific environment with medical doctors, physicists, computer scientists and engineers, and promotes young scientists in the field.”

Pierre Magistretti: “I think that CIBM has played an important catalytic role in fundamental and translational research, particularly in neurosciences. This is a ‘snow ball’ effect that CIBM has created, making the Lake Geneva area more attractive and supporting the emergence of various important initiatives in Neuroscience in the region such as the Clinical Neuroscience Department and CHUV/UNIL Center of Psychiatric Neuroscience, research in fundamental and translational neurosciences at l’UNIGE and EPFL, particularly the Brain Mind Institute and Neuroprosthetis Center, and the NCCR Synapsy Center or the Lemanic NeuroScience School (LN). “

Pierre-François Leyvraz : “ The CIBM has surely created a healthy competition in biomedical imaging research. In particular, researchers who did not have easy access to the machines have benefited from this stimulation, for example the researchers in nephrology or psychiatry. CIBM has enabled them to conduct research and get external funds. Finally, CIBM has created a culture of research in biomedical imaging. “

Why did the Louis-Jeantet and Leenaards Foundations decide to support the CIBM?

Foundations: One of the goals of the Louis-Jeantet Foundation is to encourage the development of research at, or with, the Medical Faculty of the University of Geneva. As for the Leenaards Foundation, in the field of science, it supports translational research related to human disease. The development of sophisticated and state-of-the-art biomedical imaging required the collaboration of several institutions, and the geographical centralization of equipment. With this need in mind, our foundations accepted to finance the CIBM project in order to provide the necessary infrastructures and competencies to biomedical research in the Lake Geneva area.


How would you evaluate the role of the CIBM in biomedical research today?

Foundations: The CIBM has opened a new horizon in biomedical imaging by providing research scientists with the most advanced state of the art equipment including one of the most powerful MRI devices in the world. Physicians, biologists, medical doctors and engineers work as a multidisciplinary team to advance fundamental as well as translational and clinical research.

In this way, the CIBM ensures a threefold mission: to advance imaging techniques; to perform fundamental biomedical research; and to support scientific programs essential to the advancement of therapeutics.

This innovative and dynamic mission, established 10 years ago, still remains the central core of activities of the CIBM. By promoting interdisciplinary collaborations, the CIBM has become today a key player not only in the region, but also internationally. The various imaging techniques offered to the research scientists by the CIBM, allows exploring more and more precisely the mechanisms involved in the life sciences.