International Rare Disease Day: The patients’ voice

On the 9th International Rare Disease Day, which will be held on 29 February next, many events will be organised in over 80 countries to raise awareness among the general public, health professionals and politicians about the characteristics of these diseases, their impacts and the means to manage and treat them.


This year, the campaign initiated by EURORDIS revolves around the theme of “Patient Voice,” in order to highlight the crucial role of patients, who by expressing their needs, encourage the necessary changes, and help to improve the daily lives of patients and their families.

Rare diseases are extremely diverse (neuromuscular, metabolic, infectious and autoimmune diseases, rare cancers), and are often serious and chronic. Although each of these diseases affects a limited number of people (fewer than one in 2,000 people), there are, however, 6,000–8,000 rare diseases. Nearly 3 million people in France, and nearly 30 million in Europe are thus affected by rare diseases.

Orphanet, a reference portal on rare diseases coordinated by Inserm, and a member of the Rare Disease Platform, offers open access to many services in order to enable patients to understand their disease and its consequences, to guide them through the care pathway, especially by identifying diagnostic laboratories and centres of reference, and to help them break out of their isolation by facilitating access to patient associations.

Cancer metastasis: it all depends on the patient’s immune response

The researchers from Unit 1138, “Integrative Cancer Immunology,” (Inserm, Pierre and Marie Curie and Paris Descartes Universities) have analysed the tumours from 838 patients with colorectal cancer, in order to identify markers for their metastatic potential. The genomic characteristics of the cancer cells seem to have little relevance. Conversely, lymphatic vascularisation around the tumour and the intensity of the patient’s immune response appear to be crucial, and might be used as markers to predict the progression of the disease.
The article detailing these findings is published in Science Translational Medicine on 24 February 2016.

tumeur cancer colorectal

CD8 cytotoxic lymphocytes are shown in red, Granzyme B in green and yellow, and the tumour in turquoise. (c) J. Galon

Most deaths of patients with cancer are not due to the initial tumour, but to its metastases. In general, it is the ability of the tumour cells to migrate within the body to colonise distant organs that determines the outcome of the disease. But despite its clinical importance, this phenomenon remains poorly understood. What causes metastases? What differentiates a tumour that tends to disseminate from another that remains localised? Is it related to the characteristics of its own tumour cells or to its environment? Every tumour is surrounded by fibroblasts (supporting cells of the connective tissue), and by blood and lymph vessels, and is infiltrated by many cells from the host’s immune system. All these elements constitute its microenvironment.

To answer these questions, the “Integrative Cancer Immunology” team from the Cordeliers Research Centre (UMRS 1138 [Inserm, Pierre and Marie Curie and Paris Descartes Universities]) analysed the genomes from primary tumours, and characterised their microenvironment in 838 patients with either localised (662) or metastatic (176) colorectal cancer. “We conducted the most exhaustive examination possible, by analysing all genetic alterations and using different approaches to characterise the host response as well as possible,” explains Jérôme Galon, who directs the laboratory.

Genomic analysis showed a very high degree of heterogeneity between the tumours examined: every patient has his/her “own” cancer. However, no association could be demonstrated between the presence of metastases and the nature of mutations in cancer-related genes, the expression of these genes, or the chromosomal instability of the primary tumour cells. Conversely, the density of lymphatic vessels was significantly lower in the environment of tumours giving rise to metastases than in that of localised tumours. Similarly, the researchers observed a lower Immunoscore®, a lower density and lower functionality of cells from the immune system in tumours that had metastasised.

The nature of these relationships—cause or consequence—remained to be determined. To accomplish this, the team focused on patients who showed either early warning signs of dissemination, or on patients with a localised tumour who subsequently developed a metastasis. The researchers found the same characteristics as in tumours that had already metastasised: a lower density of lymphatic vessels and a weaker adaptive immune response. These two independent parameters therefore constitute early markers of a tumour’s metastatic potential, and their combined analysis might increase the accuracy of the prediction.

“Immunotherapies that tend to enhance the T lymphocyte response improve the survival of patients who already have metastases. Our results show that they might also benefit patients with localised tumours but who have a weak immune response, and who are therefore liable to develop metastases,” believes Jérôme Galon, Inserm Research Director.

A patent has been filed by Inserm-Transfert in relation to this work.

Action on Zika virus: In partnership with Brazil and the French Departments in the Americas, French research teams are taking action

Yves Lévy, President of Aviesan, the French National Alliance for Life Sciences and Health, met with his partners on 18 February 2016, at the headquarters of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), to deal with the research issues raised by the emergence and spread of the Zika virus. The French Ministries of Research, Health and Foreign Affairs were represented, together with ANSM (French National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety), InVS (French Institute for Public Health Surveillance) and EFS (French National Blood Service).

PhotoCP Zika

(c) Fotolia

During this meeting, the researchers from the various research institutions, particularly Inserm, Institut Pasteur and the Institute for Development Research (IRD) presented the current state of scientific knowledge on Zika, this emerging virus of the arbovirus group (which includes dengue virus, yellow fever virus and the West Nile virus), known since 1946, which is currently present in some thirty countries in South America, Central America, in the Caribbean islands and the French Departments in the Americas, following its detection in Brazil in May 2015.

The main research projects already underway, or due to begin in France and in the French Departments in the Americas, were presented and discussed between the various assembled specialists—epidemiologists, entomologists, infectious disease specialists, virologists, and specialists in human and social sciences.

With the experience obtained in the recent chikungunya and Ebola epidemics, the REACTing[1] network once again allows us to demonstrate that French research is capable of reacting to emergencies quickly and in a coordinated manner,” says Yves Lévy, President of Aviesan and Chairman and CEO of Inserm.

“The objective of this meeting was to bring together the research strengths present in metropolitan France, in the French Departments in the Americas, and in Réunion Island, in order to very rapidly draw up relevant research programmes capable of responding to the many issues raised by the Zika epidemic,” says Jean-François Delfraissy, Director of the Multi-Organisation Thematic Institute for Immunology, Inflammation, Infectiology and Microbiology (I3M). “The study of possible partnerships with Brazil was also on the agenda.”

Among the priority issues for research, we can mention the relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and the occurrence of microcephaly in newborns, the study of the Zika virus’s neurotropism, with its potential clinical implications, modelling of the virus and its spatial conformation, methods for controlling Aedes mosquitoes, the vector for the virus, their behaviour and geographic distribution, and the development of sensitive and specific diagnostic tests to detect Zika virus infection.

Clinical studies have already begun in Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Martinique:

– Observational studies, launched in January 2016, on the consequences of Zika virus infection in pregnancy during the epidemic. They should enable the monitoring of 5,000 pregnant women in Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Martinique, with the support of the Clinical Investigation Centre under the aegis of Inserm.

– Expansion of a pre-existing cohort for the study of endemic and emerging arboviral diseases in the French Antilles and in French Guiana, in children and adults affected by acute or asymptomatic infections, will enable closer study of the natural course of the disease and the relationships between the clinical phenotype and some immuno-virological parameters.

“The entire complement of internationally recognised French research teams, mobilised and coordinated by REACTing since October 2015, is now ready to advance even more rapidly, alongside the best European teams and in association with Brazil, the main country affected,” predicts Yazdan Yazdanpanah.


The REACTing network

In June 2013, the Multi-Organisation Thematic Institute for Immunology, Inflammation, Infectiology and Microbiology (I3M) created a network called REACTing (REsearch and ACTion targeting emerging infectious diseases) in order to:

  • improve research planning during periods between crises: governance, preparation of research tools, identification of research priorities, application for funding, and ethical and legal aspects;
  • fund and establish research projects during periods of epidemic crisis: coordination, strategic priorities, methodological assistance, and informing the authorities and general public.

This network is organised around a steering committee of some fifteen human health specialists, and relies on an 8-member scientific committee and methodological centres located in the North (F. Mentré, Bichat University Hospital) and in the South (A. Fontanet, Institut Pasteur). REACTing does not target any particular disease, and may intervene in all infectious emergencies, particularly those of zoonotic origin. Its scope of action is broad, from basic research to the human and social sciences, favouring a cross-disciplinary approach.

The REACTing system has made it possible to mobilise French research teams for the chikungunya epidemic in the Antilles, and for Ebola as soon as the first cases were notified. In October 2014, it was reinforced by the establishment of a specific interministerial arrangement coordinated by Prof. Jean-François Delfraissy, the “Ebola task-force,” for managing actions to control the virus by pursuing three main objectives: (i) control and eradication of the epidemic; (ii) management of other public health emergencies unrelated to Ebola; (iii) anticipation of coming crises.

[1]  REACTing stands for REsearch and ACTion targeting emerging infectious disease. See box on following page

The intestinal microbiota: a new ally for optimum growth

The intestinal microbiota is necessary to ensure optimum postnatal growth and contributes to determining the size of adult individuals, notably in the event of undernutrition. The key element in this relationship is Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), whose production and activity are in part controlled by the microbiota.  This has recently been demonstrated in mice by scientists at the Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle de Lyon (CNRS/ENS Lyon/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1), the Laboratoire CarMeN (INSERM/INRA/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/Insa Lyon)[1], and Unit BF2I (INRA/INSA Lyon)[2]. These findings, published on 19 February 2016 in Science, and obtained in collaboration with researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences, also show that some strains of intestinal bacteria belonging to the Lactobacillus plantarum species may favor the postnatal growth of animals, thus offering a new opportunity to combat the harmful effects of chronic infantile undernutrition.

 PhotoCP web microbiote dénutrition

In the mouse, the intestinal microbiota is necessary for optimum postnatal growth and thus contributes to determining the size of adult individuals. Left: an infant mouse reared with its intestinal microbiota; right: a young adult mouse devoid of intestinal microbiota. Note their difference in size. The bacterial colonization of the mice is illustrated by the presence or absence of colonies in bacterial cultures on agar plates. © Vincent Moncorgé

During the juvenile phase, animal growth is influenced by interactions between nutritional intake and hormone signaling. Acute undernutrition for a few days in the mouse results in marked weight loss, which has been widely documented and attributed—among other factors—to a disturbance of the intestinal microbiota. Chronic undernutrition will result in the onset of growth retardation. The complex mechanisms underlying this retardation involve a state of resistance to the action of growth hormone secreted by the pituitary, an endocrine gland situated beneath the brain, which normally stimulates the production by numerous tissues of growth factors such as Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1). This tissue resistance to growth hormone causes a drop in the production of IGF-1, leading to a delayed development and reduced size of an individual compared with age. Until now, the influence of the microbiota on these mechanisms remained unknown.

Under different nutritional conditions, the scientists compared the development of standard mice with a normal microbiota with that of so-called germ-free mice without intestinal microbiota. They were able to demonstrate, for the first time, the role played by the bacteria in the intestinal flora in controlling growth.

Whether under a normal diet or in a situation of undernutrition, the researchers observed that the germ-free mice had not only gained less weight but were also smaller than their standard counterparts. In germ-free specimens, numerous bone growth parameters such as bone length or thickness were reduced, without bone mineral density (the amount of calcium in the bones) being affected. In addition, the team showed that the germ-free mice displayed lower IGF-1 levels, with less activity, than the other mice. By interfering with the activity of IGF-1 in normal mice, or by injecting IGF-1 into the germ-free mice, the scientists determined that the intestinal microbiota favored growth by influencing the production and activity of this important growth factor.

Previous studies[3] in Drosophila had demonstrated the ability of bacterial strains in the Lactobacillus plantarum species to favor postnatal growth in the event of chronic undernutrition. The researchers therefore analyzed the growth of so-called monocolonized mice (i.e. containing a single bacterial strain as their microbiota). They thus demonstrated that mice monocolonized with a specific Lactobacillus plantarum strain (called LpWJL), and reared under standard nutrition or chronic undernutrition, produced more IGF-1, gained more weight and grew better than germ-free mice or those monocolonized with other strains.  These results thus prove that certain strains of Lactobacillus, including LpWJL, are able to favor postnatal growth in mammals.

[1] Unité Cardiovasculaire, Métabolisme, Diabétologie et Nutrition (CarMeN).

[2] Unité Biologie Fonctionnelle Insectes et Interactions.

[3] Lactobacillus plantarum promotes Drosophila systemic growth by modulating hormonal signals through TOR-dependent nutrient sensing, Gilles Storelli, Arnaud Defaye, Berra Erkosar, Pascal Hols, Julien Royet, François Leulier, Cell Metabolism (2011) 14(3):403-414 and Pathogen Virulence Impedes Mutualist-Mediated Enhancement of Host Juvenile Growth via Inhibition of Protein Digestion. Berra Erkosar, Gilles Storelli, Mélanie Mitchell, Loan Bozonnet, Noémie Bozonnet, François Leulier. Cell Host and Microbe (2015) 18(4):445-55.

Calpains, key cellular enzymes for fighting influenza

Why not fight the influenza virus by blocking the cellular machinery it uses for replication? Researchers from Inserm (Unit 1100, “Respiratory Pathologies: Proteolysis and Aerosoltherapy”), Institut Pasteur and the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole in Hong Kong tested this hypothesis by specifically targeting the calpains, proteases involved in inflammatory mechanisms. Their results, obtained in animals, show that inhibiting these enzymes can not only reduce the symptoms of the disease, but also prevent infection by seasonal or pandemic influenza viruses.

Results of this study were published in the American Journal of Physiology, Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology in January 2016.

PhotoCP web grippe

A section of lungs infected with influenza virus (with major inflammation, mainly reflected in a marked polynuclear neutrophil infiltration [dark cells]). (c) Mustapha Si-Tahar/Inserm

The clinical consequences of influenza are mainly the result of uncontrolled inflammation of the lung tissue, which can lead to severe or even fatal damage. The Respiratory Pathologies: Proteolysis and Aerosoltherapy research centre and associated teams showed that this inflammatory process could be inhibited by blocking calpains, proteases present in the host cells. Blocking these enzymes might play a key role in fighting influenza: in mice, inhibition of calpains makes it possible to limit infection caused by seasonal (H3N2) or pandemic (H5N1) influenza virus.

“Two calpains are ubiquitously expressed in the body, calpain 1 and calpain 2,” explains Mustapha Si-Tahar, Director of Inserm Unit 1100. “They are being intensively studied, since they play a considerable role in various physiopathological processes, such as neurodegeneration, muscular dystrophy and diabetes. The various studies that allowed their functions to be deciphered have shown that these proteases also play a role in the inflammatory cascade, by a calcium-dependent mechanism. The influenza virus increases the intracellular calcium level and the inflammatory response.”

The work carried out by his team shows that calpains are activated during influenza infection. Conversely, inhibiting them reduces the virus’s ability to replicate in respiratory epithelial cells—whether these are murine or human.

It also reduces the intensity of the harmful immune response, and increases the survival rate of the infected host.

These results provide new perspectives in influenza control: blocking the host cell machinery would indeed be an attractive option, since it would limit the selective pressure of influenza treatments, and hence the emergence of resistant strains of the virus. The challenge is considerable: seasonal influenza is a public health problem, with 2,500-3,500 deaths in France each year. Furthermore, some influenza epidemics can lead to high excess mortality, such as in 2015, with more than 18,000 deaths recorded on the territory, and influenza pandemics can have even more serious consequences, like the Spanish influenza that killed over 50 million people between 1918 and 1919.

The researchers now want to explore two aspects in greater detail: the respective roles of the two forms of the enzyme, and the exact nature of the molecular mechanisms controlling the interaction between calpains and the influenza virus. This work will make it possible to confirm the therapeutic potential of calpains.

A study reveals a new target in the treatment of chronic inflammatory bowel disease: the fungal microbiota

A team of researchers (AP-HP, AVENIR-ATIP–Inserm team[1], INRA[2], UPMC[3]) led by Dr Harry Sokol, from the Department of Gastroenterology and Nutrition, Saint Antoine Hospital, AP-HP, used a high-throughput sequencing method to show an imbalance in the fungal microbiota of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with variations according to the type of disease and topography of lesions. The fungal component (made up of moulds and yeasts) of the microbiota has still received only very little attention, despite the existence of considerable evidence implicating it in the occurrence of this type of disease.

This work was published online in the journal Gut on 4 February 2016.

PhotoCP intestin

(c) Fotolia

The intestinal microbiota (or flora) plays a role in the occurrence of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (chronic inflammatory diseases of the digestive system, characterised by attacks and periods of remission). Previous work had already shown an imbalance in the bacterial composition of the microbiota in IBD patients, with an increase in pro-inflammatory bacteria and a reduction in anti-inflammatory bacteria. This alteration might be influenced by genetic factors, and might play an active role in intestinal inflammation.

Dr Harry Sokol’s team analysed the fungal component (i.e. moulds and yeasts) of the microbiota in IBD patients, and thus observed a higher Basidiomycota / Ascomycota ratio, a higher proportion of Candida albicans and a reduced presence of Saccharomyces cerevisiae compared with healthy subjects. This work also showed a disruption in the network of connections between bacteria and fungi in the patient intestine. Finally, Harry Sokol’s team identified imbalances in the fungal microbiota composition that are specific for certain types of IBD. Thus in a patient with Crohn’s disease, fungal diversity is increased compared with bacterial diversity, something that is not observed for ulcerative colitis.

This study, which provides a large scale description of the fungal microbiota and its alterations during IBD, is the largest to date in terms of number of patients analysed.

The results demonstrate the role of the fungal microbiota in the development and severity of IBD, and suggest that it could be considered as a new therapeutic target.

According to Dr Sokol, “We could consider reducing the load of pro-inflammatory fungi, or conversely, supplement the microbiota with protective fungi. In terms of research, this study provides opportunities for a better understanding of the complex relationships between bacteria and fungi in the intestine, and their roles in physiology as well as in human disease.”

[1] AVENIR-ATIP team, “Role of CArd9 in intestinal homeostasis,” at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm)

[2] French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA)

[3] Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC)

New study reveals incidence of dementia may be declining

Despite the concern of an explosion of dementia cases in an aging population over the next few decades, a new study, based on data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), suggests that the rate of new cases of dementia actually may be decreasing.

PhotoCP démence

(c) Fotolia

These findings, which appear in the New England Journal of Medicine, provide hope that some cases of dementia might be preventable or delayed and encourages funding agencies and the scientific community to further explore demographic, lifestyle and environmental factors underlying this positive trend.

It is believed that the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will grow each year as the size and proportion of the U.S. population age 65 and older continues to increase. By 2025 the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to reach 7.1 million — a 40 percent increase from the 5.1 million aged 65 and older affected in 2015. By 2050, the number of people in this age population with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from 5.1 million to a projected 13.8 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease.

Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 47.5 million people have dementia in the world and the total number of people with dementia is projected to reach 75.6 million in 2030 and almost triple by 2050 to 135.5 million.

FHS participants have been continuously monitored for the occurrence of cognitive decline and dementia since 1975. Thanks to a rigorous collection of information, FHS researchers have been able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias using a consistent set of criteria over the last three decades. These sources of information include FHS exams, outside clinical records, interviews with family members, and the examination of participants suspected of having a neurological problem by neurologists and neuropsychologists.


Researchers looked at the rate of dementia at any given age and attempted to explain the reason for the decreasing risk of dementia over a period of almost 40 years by considering risk factors such as education, smoking, blood pressure and medical conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol among many others.

Looking at four distinct periods in the late 1970s, late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, the researchers found that there was a progressive decline in incidence of dementia at a given age, with an average reduction of 20 percent per decade since the 1970s, when data was first collected. The decline was more pronounced with a subtype of dementia caused by vascular diseases, such as stroke. There also was a decreasing impact of heart diseases, which suggests the importance of effective stroke treatment and prevention of heart disease. Interestingly, the decline in dementia incidence was observed only in persons with high school education and above.

“Currently, there are no effective treatments to prevent or cure dementia; however, our study offers hope that some of the dementia cases might be preventable — or at least delayed — through primary (keep the disease process from starting) or secondary (keep it from progressing to clinically obvious dementia) prevention,” explained corresponding author Sudha Seshadri, MD, professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and FHS senior investigator. “Effective prevention could diminish in some measure the projected explosion in the number of persons affected with the disease in the next few decades,” she added.

The FHS consistently has been shown to be a reliable source of data. However the authors concede that the sample population is overwhelmingly of European ancestry and that further studies are needed to extend the findings to other populations. In addition, the authors also did not look at the effects of key variables such as changes in diet and exercise.

Despite these limitations, “it is very likely that primary and secondary prevention and better management of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, and their risk factors, might offer new opportunities to slow down the currently projected burden of dementia for the coming years ” add Carole Dufouil, Inserm research director in Bordeaux (France).

Yet, the authors warn that this does not mean that the total number of persons with dementia will decrease anytime soon. Since baby boomers are aging and people are living longer, the burden of dementia will continue to grow.


This particular type of study requires an enormous amount of data collected over many years on the same persons, and the study was only possible thanks to the generosity and dedication of FHS participants, who contribute their time and data with a missionary zeal. There is a plaque in the center of Framingham town that states, ‘Framingham, the town that changed America’s heart!’ released at the 50th anniversary of the FHS in 1998. Now the town can claim some credit for changing America’s brain health as well.

The study was also possible thanks to the work of earlier generations of researchers, as well as colleagues at the FHS who contribute to ongoing data collection. This study was carried out in collaboration between Inserm researchers at the Bordeaux School of Public Health / Inserm in France and Boston University School of Medicine.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Framingham Heart Study (Contract No. N01-HC-25195 and No. HHSN268201500001I) and by grants from the National Institute of Aging (AG008122 and AG033193) and National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NS017950).

Forensic odorology scientifically validated

Odorology is a technique that uses specially-trained dogs to identify human scent. It is used in police investigations to establish that an individual has been at the scene of a crime. However, there is no international norm on how these dogs are trained. At the Centre de recherche en neurosciences de Lyon (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/Inserm), researchers specializing in scents and their memorization have analyzed data, provided since 2003 by the Division of the Technical and Scientific Police (DTSP, Ecully) on dog performances in scent identification tasks. Their results show that, at the end of a 24-month training program, the dogs are able to recognize the smell of an individual in 80-90% of cases and never mistake it for that of another. These findings validate the procedures that are currently in use and should convince the international community of the reliability of this method. This work was published on 10 February 2016 in the journal PLOS ONE.

PhotoCP odorologie

Cisko, one of the police dogs, during a scent detection test (c) DGPN – SICOP

Odorology, or the science of smells, is a method of identifying human scents. It has been used in France since 2003 in police investigations to establish that an individual has been present at a crime scene. The method is based on the fact that each person has their own scent and relies on the powerful canine sense of smell (which can be 200 to 10,000 times more sensitive than that of a human being[1]). It involves a long period of dog training.

This technique consists in using a specially-trained dog to compare a human scent collected from an object found at a crime scene with scents from several people, including that of a suspect or victim. As the results of these tests are of critical importance for investigators, they need to be obtained through viable and reproducible methods. However, there are no internationally recognized norms for the training of these dogs or for their inclusion in investigations—hence the occasional reluctance to treat their evidence as proof. By analyzing results collected since 2003 at the Division of the Technical and Scientific Police (DTSP, Ecully), researchers from the Centre de recherche en neurosciences de Lyon have succeeded in demonstrating the viability of the technique used.

During basic training, the German and Belgian shepherd police dogs must learn to make the link between two scents from the same individual through the completion of increasingly complex tasks. By the end of this training, the dogs are able to carry out identification exercises during which they sniff a reference human scent and then compare it with five different human odors, one of which is the reference scent. When a dog matches the scent in the jar to the reference one (which it shows by lying down in front of the correct jar) it is rewarded with a treat or a game. The human odors may consist of traces collected from an object that someone has touched or of a scent collected directly from a person.

The analysis of the data obtained with the 13 DTSP dogs since 2003 shows that after they have learned the task’s principles, 24 months of regular training is necessary for stable and optimal performances. At the end of the first twelve months, the dogs no longer made any recognition errors, i.e., they did not confuse the scent of one person with that of another. Furthermore, their olfactory sensitivity increased significantly over the training period: on average, after two years, the dogs managed to recognize two scents from the same person in 85% of cases. The remaining 15% of cases in which no match was obtained, were mostly the result of poor scent sampling rather than poor recognition.

The researchers also found that German shepherds were better than Belgian shepherds, undoubtedly because they are more disciplined and attentive.

At the end of their basic training, the dogs are able to participate in criminal cases and receive continuing training throughout their lives. In practice, each identification test is carried out by at least two dogs. Additionally, each dog performs at least two tests with the same panel of scents: the collected scent is presented either as a sample to be sniffed at the start of the task, or in one of the jars that the dog sniffs successively. Between 2003 and 2016, odorology was used in 522 cases at the SDPTS and helped to resolve 162 cases.

In these criminal cases, the sampled scents were only a few hours or days old. The researchers now want to study how the dogs perform on older scents. Scent samples can in fact be stored in scent libraries over several years.

[1] Marshall and Moulton, Chem Senses,1981; Krestel et al., Neurosci Biobehav Rev, 1984.

Sunday 14 February 2016: Heart Day

As the cause of 17.5 million deaths in 2012, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of mortality worldwide.[1] In France they are the second leading cause of mortality in men, and the leading cause in women.[2]


These diseases are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke), peripheral arterial disease, heart failure, rheumatic heart disease, congenital heart disease and cardiomyopathy.

Heart Day, initiated by Alliance du Cœur and held on 14 February every year, the symbolic date of St. Valentine’s Day, is aimed at bringing together the general public, health professionals and public authorities for a national debate in order to combat cardiovascular diseases. On this occasion, many events will be held in three cities in France, Belfort, Paris and Strasbourg, on the theme “Every Woman’s Heart.”

See the programme on the Heart Day information website.

Inserm researchers conducting research on cardiovascular diseases are available to answer your questions.

[1] Source: WHO

[2] Source: Heart Day

New phase of the Elfe study : an original study on learning in nursery school children !

In spring 2016, a new phase in the Elfe Child Cohort Study will take place in French nursery schools, with participation by middle-year teaching staff. Its objective: to collect information on early learning by children of approximately 5 years of age. It will hence be possible to analyse the manner in which children enter the various areas of learning provided by nursery schools, taking living conditions, family structures, and the child’s health and development into account.

This “School” component of the Elfe study calls for participation by teachers via playful exercises in the areas of reading and numbers, prepared by the researchers.


(c) Fotolia

The place of the School survey in monitoring the Elfe child cohort

Elfe is the first French study devoted to monitoring children from birth to adult age, which addresses the many aspects of their development and socialisation from the social sciences, health and environment perspective. When it was launched at national level in 2011, over 18,000 children were enrolled in the cohort.

The Elfe study is an innovative source of data for the large-scale analysis of the relationship, at every age, between parent biography, family life, socioeconomic characteristics, and child-minding arrangements and the development of children’s cognitive and social abilities.

The most important data are collected by conducting regular surveys with parents. Direct input is also sought from the children at age three and a half during a home visit, where they do a drawing and play various visual and picture-matching games. By continuing to monitor children at approximately 5 years of age, the School survey will be invaluable in offering a comprehensive and multifactorial approach to the world of early childhood and nursery school.

More information at: