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University of Basel

21 August 2017

Basel Life: A Showcase for Europe’s Life Sciences

Susan Gasser
Susan Gasser, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Basel and Director of the Friedrich Miescher Institut, wants to turn Basel into Europe's reference point for life sciences.

Basel unites many strengths in life sciences: a strong university, strong industry and strong scientists. However, despite all this wealth, Basel has so far been lacking a big showcase for its life sciences. With a full week dedicated to Europe’s excellence in life sciences, Basel Life aims to fill this gap. An interview with Susan Gasser, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Basel, Director of the Friedrich Miescher Institute (FMI) and Chair of the new conference Basel Life.

Uni News: What was your motivation to establish a new life science conference?

Susan Gasser: The idea has been fermenting for a long time and not just with me. For several years, different people had been exploring ideas for a scientific showcase for Basel. But the question was always what shape this should take. My colleagues and I felt that a scientific meeting of high impact was what Basel needed. But my motive wasn't just local but also European. The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) had decided not to continue their annual Europe-wide meeting. I thought that that was a shame. Europe too often takes the second seat to the U.S. regarding scientific questions, when in fact; our science is just as good. However, European scientists are less good at actual translation and risk-taking. I thus felt that it was essential to have a showcase not just for Basel but for European science and biomedical application at the same time. Together with the technology exhibition Miptec and the Innovation Forums for academic and industry researchers already taking place in the same week we came up with what is now called Basel Life.

How does Basel Life manage to combine these aspects?

Basel Life aims to promote and support the exchange between fundamental research, medicine, and industry. It combines the already established technology exhibition Miptec and a series of innovation forums on applied and translational science with a scientific conference. The week thus stands on three pillars. We are very happy that EMBO decided to join forces and take on the organization of the scientific congress.

Why is now the time for a new science conference in Basel?

Because I believe that Basel has enormous potential that isn't realized. We have two of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, a strong university, and other excellent institutions such as ETH or FMI, but this wealth is never brought together and put on display. We wanted to change that, and as it turned out, others did too. Basel-Stadt was extremely enthusiastic about our idea and industry, such as Roche and Novartis, was also supportive. People had been looking for something that would showcase Basel as a life sciences center and enhance the area. Everybody, from sponsors to scientists, was very willing to participate. I take this as a sign that there is a real need and that we are not trying to do something crazy here. Let's just say: the time is right! At present, there is no competition, so the door is wide open for us.

What are your personal highlights of the scientific conference?

I’m sure the opening ceremony at the Kunstmuseum with Nobel laureate Paul Nurse is going to be fantastic. He is an exceptional speaker. I’m also very excited about the keynote lecture by Jennifer Doudna on CRISPR biology and the genome engineering. Jennifer Doudna is one of my heroes. She is a woman, she is dynamic and modest, and despite her big breakthrough, she is still very much a real scientist. I find her an outstanding type of person. For researchers interested in genomes, of course, all three days are a must.

What is this year’s theme?

For its debut, Basel Life is dedicated to the topic Genomes in Biology and Medicine. Currently, the two hottest things happening in the field are CRISPR and human genome sequencing – both have great potential for medical applications. We have two excellent keynote lectures on both these subject which also have medical relevant applications. The rest of the three days offer a broad range from structural biology to evolutionary genetics.

What are your hopes for the future of Basel Life?

Well, in my wildest dreams, Basel Life becomes the Art Basel of life sciences. Who knows, why not? Art Basel started very modestly, and then over time, it grew to be the reference for all art dealers around the world. So yes, ideally this conference will become the meeting place for top scientists around Europe and a great place for young scientists to see the possibilities in their field.

Basel Life 2017

Basel Life will take place for the first time 10 - 13 September 2017 at the Congress Center in Basel. This years theme is „Genomes in Biology und Medicine“.

More information under https://www.basellife.org/

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