Text: Bertrand Tappy
Photo: Eric Déroze

Jocelyne Bloch and Jean-François Brunet

Portrait of a duo that does right by research. Neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch and biologist Jean-François Brunet.


www.neurocellia.ch (Website of the association for cell therapy in neuroscience)

Jocelyne Bloch, Associate Physician in the neurosurgery department of the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), and Jean-François Brunet, a CHUV biologist, are waiting for the go-ahead from federal agencies to begin clinical testing for the last stage of their research.

Although testing will not quite be the end of the road, it is an outcome that the duo have been eagerly awaiting, given the importance of what it at stake. Bloch and Brunet are trying to restore optimal functionality to a stroke-damaged brain by transplanting the patient’s own neural cells.

“In order to get where we are today, we had to first find out which cells were concerned inside the biotope that is the human brain,” explains Jean-François Brunet. “So we tested over a hundred combinations before finding the right one. Once we had found the recipe, we had to create the conditions to multiply this “cocktail” over six weeks of culturing, then re-inject everything into the brain without causing any damage.”

But two skilled specialists can’t be brought together at the drop of a hat, however fantastic the goal. The biologist and the clinician had to define a language, common ground and – above all – a shared vision to find solutions. That was no small feat. “In the clinic, I am used to systematically looking for a solution to the problems faced by my patients,” says Jocelyne Bloch. “A scientist conducting basic research cannot reason in that way. He must first think about the problem, note down his observations and then interpret his findings. Actually applying the fruit of that research doesn’t occur until later on.”

Over the years and through various publications, our two researchers have forged a close relationship, turning their differences into strengths. “If we had worked separately, it would have been a losing battle,” says Jean-François Brunet. “Projects like this are a real departure from previous research, breaking down the barriers between various professions that have to learn to listen to each other. Furthermore, we wanted to show that the therapeutic approach – as opposed to the basic approach – also has its benefits.”

“We will be able to start as soon as authorisation has been granted,” enthuses Jocelyne Bloch. “We have the necessary funds, thanks to the association we created (all expenses – surgery and hospitalisation – are covered by the project).”

In the meantime, the neurosurgeon continues to implement and lead different research projects, while the biologist is working in another direction by creating a cell production centre. After all, research is not only teamwork; it is also a long-distance race.

"If we had worked separately, it would have been a losing battle", says Jean-François Brunet.