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The history of the Champalimaud Foundation begins in the mind of a Portuguese visionary and entrepreneur. A highly successful industrialist and financer, António de Sommer Champalimaud decreed that following his death part of his fortune should be used to create an international project in the field of biomedicine. 

In his will Mr. Champalimaud appointed the former Portuguese Minister of Health, Leonor Beleza, as President. Mrs. Beleza was given the responsibility, alongside Mr. Champalimaud’s long-time friend and lawyer, Daniel Proença de Carvalho, of constructing the Foundation’s statutes, leadership and direction.

On the Board of Directors, Mrs. Beleza was soon joined by João Silveira Botelho and António Borges. These appointments were followed by the first meeting of the General Council, on June 14th 2005, which comprised international dignitaries such as Mary Robinson, and elected Mr. Proença de Carvalho to act as its Chairman. This meeting marked the completion of the formal process of the creation of the Foundation. In publically presenting the General Council for the first time, Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, called the Foundation, “a beacon of change through science and medicine.”

With the direction and management of the Foundation in place, the first challenge was to identify the areas in which the endowment left by António Champalimaud could be put to the best use. This importance of this task could not be understated as it was to define the future of both the Foundation and its endowment. The main source of inspiration for this was the personality of the Founder, and the Board was united in trying to find the areas of intervention most aligned to what António Champalimaud himself would have wanted. Guided by a desire to learn from the very best, the Board of Directors searched actively for advice and consultation with the most renowned individuals and institutions in the fields of science and medicine. A focused journey was begun, taking in internationally recognised centres of research and learning, such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Nobel Laureates from numerous disciplines. By making these contacts, the Foundation began to form a strong and experienced network of friends, contacts and advisors, which has been a source of support, guidance and inspiration ever since. While these contacts were first being made, a study was also commissioned to analyse national and international disease prevalence, along with the distribution of funding in medical science.

After months of discussion and study, two fields stood out as areas in which the Foundation’s actions could achieve high impact: neuroscience and oncology. The increasing prevalence of diseases related to these areas marked them out as areas in which the Foundation could strive to make a significant difference. A third area – blindness prevention – was added to address a medical problem which is of particular significance to the developing world and a continual challenge to researchers and physicians.

It was in this third field of blindness prevention that the Foundation was to launch its first direct action in 2006. Given annually, the €1,000,000 António Champalimaud Vision Award is the largest prize in the field and looks to support the fight against blindness from two sides – laboratory-based research and blindness prevention work in the developing world – as it reflects the Foundation’s belief in translational science. Following its launch in Delhi by the former President of India, Dr. APJ Kalam, the first edition of the Award was presented to the Aravind Eye Care System at a ceremony in Lisbon on September 7th 2007. This award has gone from strength to strength and has now contributed €6,000,000 to those working to alleviate the huge burden of vision related disease.

In 2007 the Champalimaud Foundation took its first steps into research with the launch of the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme (CNP). Initially hosted at Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Insitute of Science, this programme was designed to be built around the very best scientific talent with the goal of unravelling the neural basis of behaviour and advancing our knowledge of one of the last unchartered scientific territories: the human brain. To support and nourish its research advances the CNP, and the Champalimaud Foundation in general, made a decision to have a strong programme of advanced scientific education at its core. The International Neuroscience Doctoral Programme was created in partnership with the Gulbenkian Institute of Science and the Foundation for Science and Technology to meet this need.

No sooner had the Foundation’s neuroscience research begun than the Foundation announced on January 30th 2008 the opening of its first vision centre: C-TRACER – the Champalimaud Centre for Translational Eye Research. The C-TRACER network, created to promote advanced research in the field of ophthalmology now comprises three centres, in India, Portugal and Brazil.

As the Foundation’s activities began to gain significant momentum, the C-TRACER inauguration was swiftly followed by its first major project aimed at bringing scientific education to the wider public. Champimóvel, launched in April 2008, is a 3-dimensional, moveable, interactive experience which takes children through the Iberian peninsula on a journey of discovery through the human body. Along the way, their imaginations are captured by an introduction to some of the most cutting-edge issues in modern biomedicine.

The final landmark of 2008 was the most significant. On October 5th 2008 the first stone was laid on the construction of the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown – a state-of-the-art facility for research and clinical care in Lisbon.

With programmes in neuroscience, vision and education already in place, the Foundation began 2009 with the ambition of launching its activities in the field of oncology, with a view to becoming one of the major contributors to this field. To this end, the first Champalimaud Cancer Research Symposium was held in May 2009 and welcomed Nobel Laureates and participants from all over the world. This series of annual Cancer Symposia is now in its fifth year and has become a major part of the scientific calendar. Following on from the success of the first symposium, the Foundation launched its first direct investment in cancer research, through the Champalimaud Metastasis Programme.

In the early years of its work, the Champalimaud Foundation collaborated with a variety of other institutions to create and fund advanced research programmes. In 2010, however, the Foundation would begin to look inwards and to create a working environment and facility which could be direct reflection of its philosophy and ambitions. Two short years after the first stone was laid, the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown was officially inaugurated on October 5th 2010 in the presence of the President of Portugal and a multitude of Nobel Laureates, collaborators, friends and advisors, all of whom had supported the Foundation’s journey over the previous years. A few short months later, the Champalimaud Clinical Centre welcomed its first patients and began its mission to provide the very highest quality of cancer care, supported by programmes of translational research.

The Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown now stands as an identifiable landmark on both the Lisbon riverfront and on the map of international science. In 2012 the Centre was named the best place worldwide (outside the USA) to do postdoctoral work, by the international journal, The Scientist. In the clinic, the Foundation’s radiotherapists are currently one of the few teams worldwide to offer the most advanced forms of single-dose image-guided radiotherapy, allowing patients to be treated in minutes rather than weeks. Across all areas of activity, the Champalimaud Foundation strives to be a leader and an educator.

As each day goes by the Foundation works to develop new projects and find new solutions to some of the most pressing health and medical concerns of our age. It remains to be seen what the future holds, but one thing that is certain is that the Champalimaud Foundation will use the use the resources, inspiration and determination of its Founder to do whatever it can to improve the lives, health and well-being of people across the globe.

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