Inserm inaugurates its History Committee

réunion histoire

Photo credit: Jean-Marie Heidinger/Inserm

Row 1, left to right: Dominique Donnet-Kamel, Suzy Mouchet, Martine Bungener, Muriel Le Roux, Hélène Chambefort, Florence Hachez-Leroy
Row 2, left to right: Arnaud Benedetti, Pascal Griset, Yves Levy, André Syrota, Yves Agid, Pierre Corvol

Inserm announces the creation of its History Committee, reporting directly to its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Professor Yves Lévy. This Committee will be chaired by Professor Pascal Griset (Director of the Institute for Communication Sciences [ISCC], Paris-Sorbonne). This Committee is one of the actions conducted by the Institute in recent decades to reconstitute, preserve and promote its heritage, and as a continuation of the events that marked the 50th anniversary of the Institute in 2014.

A primary objective of the Committee will be to encourage and conduct work on the history of Inserm and of France’s biological, medical and health research in its national and international context, in order to raise the profile of Inserm’s activity within the French research system. The Committee will also be involved in enriching the Histoire de l’Inserm website (, and, in conjunction with university, scientific, cultural and socioeconomic circles, will promote or organise seminars, symposia, round-tables and any other events associated with Inserm’s history, and, more broadly, the history of medical and health research. Finally, this committee intends to provide a link with institutions working in these similar and/or complementary fields, and to design projects in partnership with them.

“Apart from the statutory objectives, history is an excellent lever for consolidating the Institute’s identity and visibility, and by the same token for strengthening the sense of belonging in a setting that is obviously much more complex than when the Institute was created,” says Yves Lévy, Chairman and CEO of Inserm, who is inaugurating this committee today. Knowing the history of our institute and of our disciplines should enable both ourselves and the youngest among us to understand how science is produced. I believe that this will contribute essential added value to our epistemological reflection on research,” adds Mr Lévy.

The Committee members

Nine members appointed by the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Inserm for a renewable period of 4 years

  • The Chairman: Pascal Griset, a professor at Paris-Sorbonne University, co-author of the work Au Coeur du Vivant (The Heart of the Living), written on the occasion of Inserm’s 50th anniversary, and a specialist in the history of innovation and the major scientific institutions.
  • four renowned figures whose actions have contributed to the development of excellence at Inserm: Yves Agid,Martine Bungener, Pierre Corvol and André Syrota
  • four renowned figures, specialists in issues affecting science and society/Inserm: Florence Hachez-Leroy, Jean-Paul Gaudillière, Muriel Le Roux and Cécile Meadel

Ex-officio members:

  • Thierry Damerval, Deputy Director-General of Inserm
  • Arnaud Benedetti, Head of Inserm’s Department of Scientific Information and Communication, and Associate Professor at Paris-Sorbonne
  • Suzy Mouchet, Manager of the Histoire de l’Inserm website
  • Hélène Chambefort, Manager of Inserm’s archives
  • Dominique Donnet-Kamel, former Manager of the Patient Associations Mission, and strongly involved in relations between Science and Society

To find out more

Cured meat and asthma: the best of enemies ?



A high intake of cured meat (at least 4 times a week) is associated with an aggravation of asthma symptoms over time. These results, published in the journal Thorax by a team of Inserm researchers (Inserm Unit 1168, “Aging and chronic diseases: epidemiological and public health approaches”) were obtained from data collected from 1,000 individuals monitored for an average of 7 years.

Eating cured meat – recently classified as carcinogenic by WHO – has already been associated with an increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but its association with asthma had never been demonstrated. A growing body of evidence, which includes the fact that a change in dietary habits or an increase in obesity over time is implicated in asthma, led the researchers at Inserm to examine this question more closely.

 An analysis was conducted, using data from the EGEA study[1], on nearly 1,000 participants monitored for seven years. People included in the cohort had a mean age of 43 years. During the period, 20% reported an aggravation of their asthma symptoms. In order to understand the reasons, the Inserm researchers focused on their diet.

It was first necessary to eliminate the “obesity” parameter, which could have distorted the results. Since BMI is a risk factor that has already been identified in the occurrence of asthma, it was indeed plausible that it represents a causal mediator between the effects of diet that the researchers wished to examine (namely cured meat intake) and asthma. The scientists therefore took this parameter into account to adjust their results, using a recent epidemiological method known as MSM[2] (marginal structural models).

The results of the study showed that a high intake of cured meat (at least 4 times a week) was directly associated with aggravation of asthma symptoms.

And only 14% of the association between cured meat intake and asthma was explained by obesity (indirect effect).

“These new results show a greater direct effect of diet on asthma in adults. In order to protect the respiratory health of the population, public health messages aimed at limiting cured meat intake should be quickly introduced,” explains Zhen Li, main co-author of this work.

[1] An epidemiological study of the genetic and environmental factors associated with asthma, bronchial hyperactivity and atopy.

[2] This method allows for a causal route in which a confounding factor exists in order to measure the direct effect of a factor A on another factor B (see Figure 2 of the scientific article)

Personalised home care effective against Alzheimer’s disease

retraite assistance


A new home-based therapeutic approach targeting dementia patients, “occupational therapy,” can slow their loss of autonomy and reduce behaviour problems. These results come from a new study published by Inserm researchers (Unit 1219 “Institute of Public Health, Epidemiology and Development” [ISPED]) in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

France deployed a huge effort to improve the care of patients with dementia in 2008, with a national plan for Alzheimer’s disease. This effort was consolidated by the following government (Neurodegenerative Diseases Plan). Some new care arrangements were put in place, such as the Specialised Alzheimer’s Teams (ESA) that offer occupational therapy to Alzheimer’s patients. This therapy involves encouraging patients to perform certain activities or to maintain their autonomy in a secure and effective manner, while taking their lifestyle and environment into account. Based on the intervention of occupational therapists, psychomotor therapists and geriatric care assistants, care is provided at home on medical prescription. Although its efficacy had been demonstrated in some clinical trials, it had not been demonstrated under routine care conditions, and deserved to be studied.

421 patients with dementia referred to ESAs by their general practitioner or a specialist physician were followed up for 6 months. The researchers evaluated their clinical progression from the start to the end of the intervention (a period of 3 months), and then after a further 3 months.

This observational study, carried out in real-life conditions, demonstrated a clinical benefit for patients with dementia during the intervention period.

The results indicate that the patients’ behavioural problems, the time spent by the carers taking care of their sick relative and the emotional burden associated with this care had significantly decreased in the 3 months of the intervention and were stable after this period. Patient quality of life also improved.

The cognitive performances of patients remained stable during the 6 months of the study. Functional autonomy also remained stable during the 3 months of the intervention, but was significantly reduced thereafter. Finally, in the group, the most recently diagnosed patients derived the greatest benefit in terms of functional decline. These discoveries suggest that occupational therapy services should prioritise patients with early stage Alzheimer’s disease, in order to optimise any clinical benefits.

This study emphasises the potential of this type of care in for the well-being of patients and their carers. These results also open up a new area of research regarding occupational therapy in France. Indeed, this intervention was designed as a short-term home-based measure, but the long-term advantages of the care, and the consequences of stopping it remain unknown. With this in mind, the Inserm research team will conduct a trial to compare the efficacy of occupational therapy over an additional 4-month period to that of the usual recommended care. 

Inserm, a partner in the 2nd National Day of Innovation in Health

The artificial retina, connected prosthesis, surgical robot: discover the latest advances in health at the Journée Nationale de l’Innovation en Santé at Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. Inserm will be attending this event, an initiative of the Ministry of Health.

Helping everyone discover the advances and innovations achieved in the area of health – this is the goal of the Journée Nationale de l’Innovation en Santé. Open to people of all ages and walks of life, it is an opportunity for discussion and debate between users, researchers, students, health professionals, associations and manufacturers. Jointly organised by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and by Universcience, this 2nd edition is hosted by Cité des Sciences. This year, 6 themed villages will be organised :

  • Métiers de la Santé (Health Professions)
  • Nutrition & Environnement (Nutrition and Environment)
  • Vieillesse & Autonomie (Old Age and Independence)
  • Santé Numérique (Digital Health)
  • L’Homme Réparé (The Repaired Human)
  • Traitements du Futur (Treatments of the Future)

For three days, Inserm is holding 8 mini-conferences at the Nutrition and Environment village, along with speed-dating sessions and opportunities to meet researchers around exhibitions.

Exhibition: La Science a du Goût (Science has Taste)

Nutrition & Environnement village, ground floor, Cité des Sciences

Accompanied by Hector, a taste receptor, discover how to eat well for a better life. A fun-filled, interactive exhibition about the joy of eating, balanced diet and health. A journey from the mouth to the brain, to learn about the biological processes at work when we eat… and to find out more about scientific advances in nutrition and health. To find out more about the exhibition.

Exhibition: Climat & Santé (Climate and Health)

Village Nutrition & Environnement, ground floor, Cité des Sciences

The educational exhibition Climat & Santé explains the mechanisms whereby climate change can affect health. How does warming affect our allergies? Why does it favour infectious diseases? To find out more about the exhibition.

Speed dating, “1 objet / 1 chercheur” (1 object / 1 researcher)

Every day in the different villages

A researcher sets out a mystery object or image. The audience has 2 minutes to discover its nature or function. Once the time is up, the researcher briefly explains the research s/he performs involving the featured object. The audience can then converse with the researcher(s) of their choice. During these exchanges, the scientists will show in a simple manner how science helps to deal with the challenges facing society today and tomorrow.

Check out these highlights from Inserm :

Saturday 28 January

Conference, Santé en Questions sur Big Data & Santé (‘Health in Questions’ on Big Data and Health)
2–3:30 pm, Auditorium

The quantity of information collected at every moment has exploded. But what types of health data are being produced? What do connected devices contribute to medicine and research? What revolutions are coming in our everyday life in regard to health? Come and find out at this Santé en Questions special conference on “Big Data.” To find out more about the conference.

Sunday 29 January

Performance of the Binôme play, “Souris Chaos” (Chaos Mouse)
11 am–12:30 pm, Louis Armand amphitheatre, Centre des Congrès, Level -1

Souris Chaos (Chaos Mouse) is a cruel, comical farce that makes fun of our eating binges and the excesses of the consumer society. It is the result of a meeting between Frédéric Sonntag (author and stage director) and Daniela Cota (a specialist in the physiopathology of dietary balance at Inserm). It is part of the “Binôme” series, which blends theatre with science. 

Conferences, Les Innovateurs en Santé (Innovators in Health)
2–3:30 pm, Louis Armand amphitheatre, Centre des Congrès, Level -1

Entrepreneurs who are also physicians, biologists, engineers, and sometimes physicists or chemists. Men and women who explore the living world and biotechnologies to find new treatments or new health solutions. The Innovateurs en Santé conference allows them to speak for 8 short, lively, accessible sessions. An opportunity to hear the hopes, reflections and preoccupations that lead them to innovate on behalf of patients. Also an opportunity to discover the creativity and originality of these innovators and their projects.

Science Machina Exhibition

Cité de la Santé, Level -1

Exploring the confines of the brain, producing inexhaustible energy, conquering pain… these subjects so dear to science-fiction are a reality today in research laboratories! For this 2nd Journée d’Innovation en Santé, Inserm and CEA are offering an exhibition based on the machines that make scientific advances possible.

Discover 11 machines, from the tiniest to the most gigantic, that push back the frontiers of knowledge. For each one, a different cartoonist has imagined an anecdote that tells about the machine, the people who use it or those who benefit from it. One way to examine the dialogue between human and mechanical, inventiveness and technology.

Air pollution: alarm raised by physicians, scientists and NGOs

Pollution des voitures dans les villes

© Fotolia

While the “Crit’Air” air quality sticker came into force in Paris on 16 January 2017, several physicians, scientists and NGOs launched an appeal for urgent action on air pollution, recalling that it causes 48,000 premature deaths a year in France.

While France has just endured several prolonged episodes of severe particulate pollution, leading the public authorities to restrict car traffic in Paris, Lyon and Grenoble, Prof. Isabella Annesi-Maesano, Inserm Research Director, points out that pollution enters the body not only by inhalation, but also by ingestion and through the skin.

Children, who are particularly vulnerable, are the most affected, because of their immature respiratory system.

Finally, background pollution, much more than pollution spikes, is a risk factor or aggravating factor for respiratory diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

To find out more:

See the press release from 17 March 2014

Atmospheric pollution: what are the impacts on health?

Read the file in Science et Santé magazine

Notre environnement, une menace pour notre santé (Our environment, a threat to our health)

See the press release from 15 October 2013

Large European study finds exposure to even low levels of air pollution during pregnancy increases risk of lower birthweight babies

Read the article in What’s on? from 10 April 2015

The cost of atmospheric pollution to health estimated at 1-2 billion annually

Read the Asthme (Asthma) file on

Read the file Bronchopneumopathie Chronique Obstructive (BPCO) (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD) on

Ebola survivors: life afterwards


© Livia Saavadra REA / For Waha International: ophthalmic consultation as part of the PostEbogui programme in Guinea.

The long-term clinical and social sequelae following survival of Ebola infection are unknown. In November 2014, i.e. less than a year after the start of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Inserm, in partnership with the French National Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) and the Department of Infectious Diseases at Donka University Hospital, Conakry in Guinea, organised medical follow-up of people who survived infection by the virus as part of a large research cohort. 802 individuals (adults and children) were included in the PostEbogui cohort[1] from March 2015.

Results of follow-up show that on average one year after their initial period in hospital, 3 in 4 survivors still report health problems. 40% suffer from tiredness or fever, but also from muscular (38%) and abdominal pain (22%), vision disorders that are sometimes serious and can lead to blindness (18%), and depression (17%). One quarter of survivors also claim to be victims of stigmatisation. As regards persistence of the virus in the semen, this is true: it can be found up to 18 months after the acute phase. This study has led the researchers to define what they now call the post-Ebola syndrome. This work is published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

There are few data regarding people who have survived Ebola epidemics in the past. The reason: the too-small number of survivors and the inadequate structures for performing research in a state of emergency. The last epidemic of Ebola in West Africa was so large that it led both to an unprecedented number of deaths, and a number of survivors that had never been attained in the past (17,000 survivors). Given this unprecedented situation, basic medical and research questions emerged. What long-term complications could be caused by the virus? What might be the psychosocial consequences for the survivors? Is there a risk of delayed reactivation of the virus? How long does it persist in the body and what is the possibility of sexual transmission?

In order to answer all these questions, Inserm joined forces with the Guinean health authorities to organise follow-up of those who survived the infection. Researchers at the International Joint Unit “Translational Research on HIV and Infectious Diseases” (TransVIHMI; Inserm/IRD) established a follow-up cohort of people who had survived Ebola virus infection in Guinea, the PostEbogui cohort, in March 2015. 802 individuals (of the 1,270 reported survivors of the epidemic in Guinea) entered this multidisciplinary study, an average of one year after their initial infection.

They received biological, psychological and sociological follow-up, and their viral load was measured 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months after their inclusion in the cohort. Datas of this study refer to a follow-up until July 2016. Follow-up of immunological responses will be performed on a segment of the people, in partnership with the researchers of the Vaccine Research Institute (Inserm/ANRS).

45% of the participants are men. The median age is 28 years (range 1-79 years). One in five patients is a child under 18 years.


One year after their initial period in hospital, three quarters of survivors continue to report clinical symptoms.

Clinical data

40% of patients in the cohort suffer from so-called symptoms of a general nature (tiredness/fever/anorexia). Vision disorders affect 18% of patients (conjunctivitis; visual deficits [up to blindness] and eye pain). 38% of patients suffer from musculoskeletal pain (joint pain and muscular weakness), 35% complain of headaches, 2% of deafness and 22% of abdominal pain.

“Fortunately, these symptoms tend to become less frequent over time, and they tend to become less severe the longer the period after the acute phase of the infection,” explains Eric Delaporte, director of the International Joint Unit “Translational Research on HIV and Infectious Diseases” (TransVIHMI).

Compared with adults, children have more episodes of fever in the long term, but less musculoskeletal pain and fewer eye problems than adults.

Biological and virological data

26% of survivors suffer from anaemia. Ebola virus is still present in the semen of 5% of men 1-18 months after infection. These results were published in greater detail in The Journal of Infectious Diseases in May 2016.

Psychological and sociological data

The risk of depression is increased in survivors. Moreover, 26% of patients claim to be stigmatised after contracting the disease.

“The results of this first large cohort allow us to better characterise what we now call the post-Ebola syndrome. Medical complications persist or appear after the acute phase of the infection, and are not negligible. They justify medical follow-up of patients with Ebola for at least 18 months following infection,” concludes Eric Delaporte.

[1] This operational research programme, “[Re]vivre après Ebola en Guinée” (Living after Ebola in Guinea), led by Inserm, is developed by the International Joint Unit TransVIHMI (UMI 233 IRD / U1175 Inserm), in partnership in Guinea with several departments of Donka University Hospital, INSP, Macenta, N’Zérékoré and Forécariah Hospitals, the ALIMA association and the Socio-Anthropological Analysis Laboratory of Guinea (LASAG) of the University of Sonfonia, and in France with the Biology of Viral Emerging Infections Unit at Institut Pasteur Lyon, the Inserm U955 Immunomonitoring Platform, and the Inserm U980 Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases.

Identification of one of the keys allowing entry of Zika virus into brain cells

PhotoCP Zika

A team led by Ali Amara, Inserm Research Director at Unit 944, “Pathology and Molecular Virology” (Inserm/CNRS/Paris Diderot University) describes, in an article published in Cell Reports, the mechanisms that allow Zika virus to infect the cells of the nervous system.

 The ZIKAlliance project, coordinated by Inserm and funded under the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, is aimed at characterising the fundamental and clinical aspects of infection by Zika virus, an emerging pathogen in America. The infection is generally mild, but the virus can also cause severe neurological diseases and congenital microcephaly in the foetus.

The researchers have shown that the Axl protein, which is expressed in numerous glial cells, facilitates entry of Zika virus into the brain. Entry of the virus into these cells requires a second protein, Gas6. The latter constitutes a mediator between the viral particles and glial cells.

The researchers also discovered that activation of the Axl protein lowers the immune response to Zika virus, thus promoting infection.

This study improves the state of knowledge of the molecular interactions that take place at the moment the virus enters the glial cells. These results represent a major step in understanding the neurological complications of the infection. Furthermore, they demonstrate in vitro that inhibition of the Axl pathway could represent a potential therapeutic target, although any side-effects associated with blocking it have yet to be identified.