"Building bridges between the biomedical and EPFL communities"

Gaspard Pardon in front of the Agora building © 2021 EPFL / Aurélien Tock

Gaspard Pardon in front of the Agora building © 2021 EPFL / Aurélien Tock

Gaspard Pardon joined EPFL in March this year as Head of the newly created Bioengineering and Technology platform at the AGORA Translational Cancer Research Center, where one of his first tasks is to bring life into the empty labs of the core facility. We spoke to him about his role, challenges and vision.

Tell us a little about yourself; what do you enjoy doing?

Professionally, I enjoy working on projects that show a real potential to improve people’s life, be it through better health, environment or societal impact. Personally, I like being in the mountains: skiing (downhill racing), hiking, or cycling. I also like the arts, photography, architecture, graphic design; and wine and travel. When “on the go”, I’m always looking for hidden gems and unique experiences. Of course, I love enjoying all of this with family and friends.

What services does your platform provide?

The new Bioengineering and Technology platform is located in the new AGORA Translation Cancer Research Center next to the CHUV hospital in Lausanne. The platform will serve as a bidirectional bridge between the biomedical and EPFL research communities sharing an interest in bioengineering and cancer research. It will also serve as a center of expertise in bioengineering, and will encompass educational activities, an R&D laboratory, and a facility infrastructure. More concretely, we envision that the platform will develop activities along three main axes: a micro-fabrication and prototyping pipeline; an infrastructure for organoids and advanced cellular models’ development; and a dedicated instrumentation for assays development, for example to handle, image and characterize patient-derived cells or tumoroids using microfluidics devices.

What does your job involve?

At this point, my job mostly consists of building a community around the platform, and in establishing lab infrastructure. Currently, I am reaching out to group leaders, facilities and researchers from the various institutions involved at AGORA to identify the most promising synergies and refine the positioning of the platform. The very interdisciplinary nature of bioengineering requires an ability to listen and understand the “grand objectives” and “immediate goals” of the different players. By aggregating this information, I can take informed decisions and shape the platform in a way that will foster and support cross-fertilization between the disciplines.

What are some challenges that you face in your role?

The platform has huge potential, and the overall vision is ambitious and far-reaching. Thus, one challenge is to put this vision into practice. We have to find a fine balance for growing and supporting all sides of the community, with the right infrastructure and team. The platform is being established from scratch, so this is a great opportunity but also a challenge. Anticipating all the needs and defining the right operational model is not always straightforward. Thankfully, there is strong support from the members of EPFL’s School of Life Sciences and AGORA.

What are your plans for the future of the platform?

My hope is that the platform will directly contribute to realizing the vision for AGORA as a place that fosters cross-disciplinary interactions and cutting-edge innovation, with the ultimate goal of benefitting cancer patients more rapidly and efficiently.

One goal is to capture technologies of translational interest at EPFL and support their maturation and implementation in translational research projects. By working with the various innovation offices, I also hope that the platform will contribute to their possible future commercial transfer.

Another exciting aspect is the potential of the platform in becoming a gateway for EPFL research towards the clinical and translational settings. The platform can facilitate access to patient samples and clinical knowledge, which will open new avenues for impactful applications. Hence, I aim to grow a network of contacts within the biomedical community with whom EPFL researchers can establish pilot projects with the support of the platform team and infrastructure.

Finally, I hope that the platform will serve beyond cancer, as a base on which EPFL can further grow its wider translational bioengineering research and community.