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Miquel Martí

director of the International Center for Scientific Debate (ICSD)

He has been at the head of the ICSD for nearly a year. He holds a degree in Industrial Engineering from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and an MBA from ESADE. Before coming to the ICSD, he was in charge of the Barcelona headquarters of the Research, Development and Innovation Accreditation Agency (AIDIT). He now faces the challenge of driving debate on the “frontiers” of science among international specialists and making this information available to the Catalan scientific community as well as the general public.

For the past two years, the International Center for Scientific Debate (ICSD), an initiative of Biocat with support from “la Caixa” Welfare Projects, has driven events where renowned national and international scientists debate, collaborate and exchange their knowledge on research of excellence in the field of life sciences.

The ICSD, in addition to fostering debate regarding topics on the frontiers of science, seeks to have an impact on society by raising awareness of scientific issues through symposia and open conferences and through reflections on large-scale collective challenges, such as environmental sustainability, the basic right to healthcare, and the ethical implications of research. The Center’s end goal is for Barcelona to be recognized as the city of knowledge it has become and Catalonia as a country of scientific excellence.

Over this time, the Center has brought together nearly 500 scientists and experts from benchmark international research centers to work together in fields like international healthcare, neurosciences (Alzheimer’s), decoding the human genome, new therapies to treat type 1 diabetes and sports medicine research. To do this, the Center has collaborated with other organizations linked to research on different levels, both in Catalonia —CRG, PRBB, BSC, CNAG, CRESIB, ISGlobal, CBATEG-UAB, CIBERDEM— and around the world —Consortium, EASD, and JDRF, among others.

The Center’s 2011 calendar of activities is made up of nine activities and covers a variety of topics such as human fertility research, agrigenomics and the impact of biological breakthroughs on current social structures.

The 2011 activities were launched on 9 and 10 March at the CosmoCaixa in Barcelona with the scientific symposia on the challenges of emerging diseases and global migratory patterns, which were organized jointly by the CRESIB, ISGlobal and ICSD. These symposia featured specialists from Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Bolivia and Catalonia, including Dr. Pedro Alonso and Dr. Antoni Trilla.

The ICSD is a relatively new project that has evolved over time. Could you explain this process?

Originally, the ICSD was conceived of as a sort of noucentista club: an isolated space where a select group of scientists could retreat to think about and find solutions to the scientific challenges posed.

From that initial idea, we have kept the international nature of the center, its dedication to debates regarding the frontiers of science and the idea of promoting the Catalonia brand as synonymous for scientific excellence. However we have moved towards a more open concept. We want to foster integrative debates among experts from a variety of scientific disciplines who deal with the problems posed from different viewpoints and can contribute solutions to the challenges facing society, always, of course, in the realm of life sciences. This includes topics like ageing, personalized medicine, global health and fertility.

The idea is to foster new ways of doing science, where interdisciplinary dialogue is at the heart of the process and the aim is to continually seek out a direct connection with society, as the source of concerns science must seek to address and as the end target of the knowledge generated.

How does the ICSD contribute to the BioRegion of Catalonia?

On one hand, our activities draw international scientists to the area, allowing them to get a first-hand look at our strengths in biotechnology, biomedicine and medical technology. This approach brings about an appreciation of our resources around the world in terms of research facilities, personnel and scientific production. At the same time, it shows Barcelona and Catalonia as attractive destinations to work or carry out scientific projects.

On the other hand, with the symposia and open debates and by raising awareness of the issues the Center deals with, we bring science, and biotechnology in particular, to the general public.

We aim to make a significant contribution to both the consolidation of the Catalan biocluster and its international projection.

Does the Center play a role that wasn’t previously filled by another organization in Catalonia?

In Barcelona and Catalonia, we have many organizations that hold scientific debates, symposia and congresses and universities, science parks and research centers organize many activities to raise awareness. However, before now, there wasn’t an organization with the ICSD’s characteristics.

When Biocat and “la Caixa” conceived of the Center, our idea was to integrate those efforts, not in order to replace any of the other organizations but to complement and collaborate to achieve a more significant joint impact.

If we had to mirror another organization, our point of reference would be the Gordon Research Conferences (USA), although other well-known initiatives, like the European Science Foundation Research Conferences, are also a source of inspiration.

After years in the academic arena, what made you decide to join the ICSD?

First of all, the chance to work for the country more actively, joining an organization like Biocat. Also, the idea of working on a project that is very much in line with my own values and being in close contact with experts, now in the life sciences field, and gaining first-hand knowledge of the state of the art and future initiatives on the frontiers of science, which are destined to be the foundation for important changes throughout the 21st century.

What do you expect from the Center as its director?

My key aim is to continue to shape the initiative. Not only by carrying out the calendar of activities in 2011 and 2012, but also by building the necessary relationships with new knowledge partners, mainly Catalan universities, science parks and research centers. Once we have achieved this first step, we will focus our attention on forging collaboration agreements with benchmark organizations around the world.

How do scientists here at home feel about these meetings with international researchers and organizations?

Both national and international scientists have shown their satisfaction with the debate symposia they have participated in. Foreign participants also highlight the chance to get a deeper look at the country’s research potential. In some cases, we have been notified of collaboration agreements established through activities organized by the Center and others have expressed their desire to submit new debate proposals for the 2012 calendar of activities.

What scientific debates will the ICSD offer this year?

The Center has started off this year’s activities with debate symposia featuring specialists on migrant health and imported diseases, which were followed by an open session on the possibility of diseases that were thought to have been eradicated in Catalonia being re-introduced. This activity was organized in collaboration with the CRESIB and ISGlobal, and included such renowned participants as Dr. Pedro Alonso and Dr. Antoni Trilla.

This year’s calendar includes closed debate sessions in the fields of bioinformatics for genomic assembly (April), the interactions between light and plant circadian rhythms (May), preserving fertility in patients with diseases like cancer (July), basic and applied muscle and tendon research (September) and the use of light to treat neurodegenerative diseases and for oncology research (May). The Center will also hold debate sessions on science and life, in collaboration with the CCCB, contrasting viewpoints of scientists, philosophers and humanists (October) and, finally, the year will close with a symposium organized jointly by the New York Academy of Sciences and “la Caixa” on cardiovascular diseases (November).

In short, we will deal with everything from basic and applied research in a number of fields of science to the impact of biotechnology on our society from a philosophical viewpoint. We have a calendar of activities that clearly reflects the ICSD’s desire to hold cutting-edge debates while, at the same time, raising awareness of topics related to health that concern the general public.

What characteristics must proposals have in order to be considered for the ICSD calendar of activities?

The ICSD calendar of activities is developed through a yearly call for proposals that is open to renowned researchers connected to research bodies in this country. Proposals must focus on topics on the frontiers of research in the life sciences and have a transversal approach, meaning that they contribute viewpoints from experts in a variety of scientific disciplines to the debate.

The debate must have a clearly international focus, either through the topic posed or the guest scientists and organizations involved. Finally, the topic must be of social interest.

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