This month, Brazil will officially get one of the world’s most modern research and education centers, good news in a country where money for science is melting year after year, in clear evidence that the region, vital to any country, is doing just that. You don’t get the necessary priority here from the federal government. Fortunately at odds with Brasilia’s neglect, the initiative is from Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Brasileira Albert Einstein, of São Paulo, an organization that has always stood out on the national stage for promoting research and teaching on topics related to the health sciences. The Society will open the Teaching and Research Center, a space designed to serve as a meeting point for science production, teaching, learning and assistance.
The new center is located in a 44,000 square meter building designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, one of the world’s most famous personalities, and author of such amazing works as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Arkansas, United States, and the Qorner Tower in Quito, Ecuador. Safdie is known for exploring natural light and integrating environments in a fluid and subtle way. In the case of the Einstein Center for Education and Research, the architectural design bears its signature, of course, and encapsulates the essence of the new paradigm of production and knowledge dissemination that society proposes. Classrooms and research facilities are located under one roof, allowing students and researchers to roam freely throughout the building.
It may seem cliched to look at it without much interest, but creating a common space between students and scientists is like running an engine that fuels curiosity and interest in scientific processes daily and leaves the door permanently open to the conversations, doubts, and questions that move science. “We have always believed that the Foundation for Health Excellence needs to unite assistance, education, research and innovation,” says Dr. Claudio Lautenberg, chair of the association’s advisory board. “The new center is the realization of the ideals we cultivate that are in harmony with contemporary thinking.” Indeed, giants in the medical field rest on these pillars. An example is the Johns Hopkins School in the United States which opened in 1876 with a path tracing in this direction, at that time a different idea of the European Aid School. Today, the integration model is clearly the appropriate way to bridge the gap between research, teaching, and the end point, the patient.
The center will host undergraduate (medicine and nursing) and postgraduate students, the level that currently has the largest number of students. However, Einstein invested heavily in expanding college study options. “We are already offering a physiotherapy course and preparing for 2023 to open the faculties of dentistry, health management and biomedical engineering,” explains Alexander Holthausen, director of education at the institution. Students will cross the corridors, in places of rest and coexistence, some under the freshness of the trees of the Atlantic Forest, with the researchers, who are now sheltering in the adjacent building, in Morumbi, where the Einstein Hospital complex is located. Scientists will work in rooms enclosed in glass, allowing everyone to see how to conduct experiments that could one day contribute to the development of new types of diagnoses and treatments. “Perhaps some would be interested and start the research as well,” says immunologist Luis Vicente Rizzo, director of research at the foundation.
Today, there are 773 studies conducted on Einstein. Among them are projects that use very advanced methods, such as the CRISPR gene-editing technology, used in the search for solutions to diseases caused by changes in DNA. Sickle cell anemia is one of these diseases. The mutation in the gene causes red blood cells to deform, which acquire a sickle shape – hence the name. More common in the black population, the disease causes acute pain crises and other serious symptoms, in addition to the anemia itself, obviously. Scientists from the organization are using CRISPR in the genetic correction necessary to treat the disease and the trial, like others in the field of cell therapy, will continue to be carried out in one of three clean rooms – which do not allow any kind of contamination inside – that should be ready by next year. They will be the only ones of its kind in the country.
The building is connected to the hospital by a corridor already called the Knowledge Gate. It exists precisely to facilitate the entry and going of doctors, students and scientists between the hospital complex and the center, closing the cycle of production, teaching, learning and application of knowledge. Thanks to a modern technological structure and, most importantly, a well-developed scientific culture, Einstein hopes to bring back scientists who are currently in other countries simply because they did not find ideal working conditions here. According to the Center for Management of Strategic Studies, there are between two and three thousand researchers from Brazil in foreign research centers. That’s a lot of people, and a country like Brazil couldn’t afford to lose them. “We want to bring back Brazilians who are in institutions abroad because they haven’t received any kind of incentive to stay in the country,” says Sidney Kleiner, president of Einstein. “The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance and urgency of creating a solid infrastructure in Brazil for education, research and training in the field of health.”
This is correct. Without the structure, skilled professionals, and huge investment in science, the world would not have such quick answers about the coronavirus, let alone vaccines that save thousands of lives. Indeed, Einstein played an important role in this journey. It was researchers at the hospital, for example, who led the vital studies that, with first-class science, overturned beliefs without scientific basis, such as the supposed efficacy of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19. Likewise, training professionals who are able to work as a team, to gather knowledge to advance treatments is essential in building an effective healthcare system.
The new center had investments of R$700 million, part of the amount generated from donations and the rest from the organization’s cash. It is hoped that the development of resources will attract more partnerships such as those signed with the pharmaceutical industries and institutions such as California’s City of Hope, a world reference in cancer research. The knowledge generated will not be limited to Einstein alone. “You will belong to the entire Brazilian community,” Claudio Lautenberg says.
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