Pasteur Institute

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Last Updated: August 1, 2008
Location: Teheran, Iranian Science Center for Biotechnology and Molecular Biology
Subordinate To: A Senate committee under the Ministry of Health
Size: 16 research departments, 50 researchers (mostly doctorates)
Facility Status:

The institute was established in 1920-21 as a primary center for researching infectious diseases and producing biological products, vaccines, and serums. A vaccine for pox was the first product of the institute. As a result of major changes that were made following the 1979 revolution, most of the scientific activities and productivity at the institute have been reduced to a minimum level. The Biotechnology Department at the Pasteur institute was formed in 1993 and is one of the pillars of modern genetic engineering in Iran.

In 1993-94, Cuba and Iran signed a biotechnology transfer agreement that brought Cuba's recombinant DNA hepatitis B vaccine industrial production equipment to the Pasteur institute. Once the production unit is up and running (five sections, 14,000 square meters), the Pasteur institute will be able to produce 10 million hepatitis B vaccine doses per year. This institute is the only one of its kind in Iran capable of producing new biotechnology products in an industrial capacity. It is also the only place in Iran using modern, scientifically valid quality control methods on an industrial level. More than 30 Iranian scientists have been or will be sent to Cuba to get training for this project.

In 1998-99, another agreement with Cuba was reached after a trip by the Iranian Minister of Health. This agreement paved the way for cooperation on producing interferon alfa, streptokinase, and erythropoietin. Cuba and Iran will cooperate on the production of other products in the future.

The Pasteur institute is involved in the development of new vaccines; vaccine production; research in microbiology, biochemistry, virology, medicine and epidemiology; teaching; and post-graduate training. For organizational purposes the institute is split among its production, support, and research departments.

The 16 research departments at the institute's Tehran facilities focus on biotechnology, biochemistry, infectious disease, microbiology, and immunology. The institute also teaches in these fields. At its production facility along the Tehran-Karaj highway, the institute prepares biological products, serums, and vaccines. Examples of the vaccines produced there include BCG, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis B, and livestock anti-rabies vaccines. The institute also produces tuberculin solutions and injection serums, anti-serums, culture mediums, and an HIV diagnostic kit. The institute is currently working on a new generation of vaccines for hepatitis and leishmaniasis.

Dr. Fereidoun Mahboudi and Dr. Marjan Mohammadi gave a presentation at the Third World Academy of Sciences meeting in Tehran (21-24 October 2000) stating that at the Pasteur institute, research on molecular medicine and recombinant DNA technology receives the most attention. The molecular medicine research undertaken focuses on prenatal diagnosis of genetic disorders and molecular diagnosis of infectious diseases. This work is carried out at the Pasteur institute, NRCGEB, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, and the Welfare and Rehabilitation University of Iran. The Pasteur institute's Biotechnology Department has succeeded in developing prenatal diagnostic techniques for Becker's and Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy, and is exploring techniques for prenatal diagnosis of hemophilia A and B.

Pasteur Institute's Departments of Interest

Biotechnology Department

Established in 1993, this department focuses on genetic engineering and genetic medicine. It currently employs a staff of five PhDs and more than 30 other researchers, in addition to graduate and doctoral students. Genetic engineering research activities include recombinant transgenics, E.coli fermentation, industrialization of transgenics in bacteria, and the purification of recombinant proteins. In the genetic medicine field, the institute concentrates on genetic disorders such as thalassemia, hemophilia, and muscular dystrophy.

Department of Molecular Biology

Established in 1991-92, this is a smaller department with only three researchers possessing PhDs. The department is organized along two pillars of basic and applied research, both pertaining to genetic, biochemical, and recombinant DNA research. According to one source, the most important research projects currently underway are "the enzyme production Taq DNAPolymerasc [sic] project and enhancing the gene expression, HSBAg [sic] in transgenic plants." A Russian researcher is leading the gene expression in plants project.

Cell Bank

The cell bank at the Pasteur institute acts as the central repository for cells in Iran. It also is the main purchaser of cells from other countries. Furthermore, the cell bank provides quality control checks for Iran's research, clinical, and education institutions. The cell bank has approximately 150 different cell lines made available to over 70 educational and research institutions throughout the country.

Tuberculosis Department

Conducts basic research with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Two of the major projects currently underway in this department are the molecular diagnosis of M. tuberculosis and the study of genetic resistance to medicine. The department works closely with research institutions in Canada and Russia.

Immunology Department

This is one of the most active departments at the institute in terms of ongoing research. Among the staff members are six with doctorates. Most of the work concerns the genus Leishmania. Ongoing projects work to create antigens for a leishmaniasis skin test, evaluating leishmaniasis vaccines, and identifying immunizing Leishmania spp. antigens.

The Pasteur institute works closely with its sister institutes in France and Greece and sends researchers to them each year. It receives approximately $200,000 per year from three WHO grants primarily concerned with leishmaniasis, a disease that is endemic in Iran. The Pasteur institute also works closely with Russian scientists on numerous short term projects, and invites a small number of Russian specialists to work at the institute each year.

According to uncorroborated reports by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the Defense Ministry has a secret experimental lab within the research section of the institute where it is studying the toxicity of molds, especially those that produce aflatoxin. The same source notes that a man named Massoumi from the Defense Ministry supervises the center that works on biological agents. According to another source, the secret Defense Ministry unit maintains extensive international relations, and its clandestine activities have reportedly been detected in Milan. The source also reports that General Mohammad Fa'ezi, who is in charge of training, has in the past recruited six scientists in Russia, Ukraine, China, North Korea and South Korea to work in various plants, most of them at the Pasteur institute.

In January 1999, Mortez Azartush, the head of the Pasteur Institute, denied reports by the U.S. press regarding cooperation with Russian scientists to produce chemical and biological weapons. He said, "The Teheran institute is not conducting either joint or independent work to create biological weapons." In addition, Valeriy Bakayev, a Russian biologist working in the Pasteur institute at the Iranian Science Center for Biotechnology and Molecular Biology, denied that any Russian biological scientists working in Iran were participating in military programs.

The Pasteur institute in Tehran has well established links to Pasteur institutions in Paris, Tunisia, and Morocco. The institute has three national sister institutes: institute for Biochemistry and Biophysics (IBB), National Research Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (NRCGEB), and the Razi Institute for Serums and Vaccines. It also enjoys active cooperation with international organizations like WHO and UNICEF.

[1] "Russian Biologist Denies Links to Iranian Military Program," Rossii Network, 24 January 1999; in FBIS Document FTS19990124000698, 24 January 1999.
[2] Chemical and Biological Defense Information Analysis Center, Assessment of Iran's Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Efforts, February 1996, p. B-4.
[3] The World of Learning 1995, p. 765;
[4] "Clerical Regime's Quest for Biological Weapons & Germ Arsenal," p. 3; Chemical and Biological Defense Information Analysis Center, Assessment of Iran's Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Efforts, p. 3; "Biotechnology Series Includes Data on Iran Pasteur Institute," Ettela'at-e Elmi (Tehran) 17 May 2001, in FBIS Document IAP20010514000002, 14 May 2001.
[5] "Magazine Outlines Biotechnology Research Centers in Iran," Ettela'at-e Elmi (Tehran) 15 May 2001, in FBIS Document IAP20010514000001, 14 May 2001.
[6] "Russia-Iran Cooperation in Biological Weapons Denied," ITAR-TASS, 28 January 1999; in FBIS Document FTS19990128001732, 28 January 1999.
[7] "Scientists: Russia Not Helping Iran Build Biological Weapons," Rossii Network, 24 January 1999; in FBIS Document FTS19990126001313, 24 January 1999.
[8] "Report — Iran: Developments in Science and Technology," in FBIS Document IAF20010410000067, 10 April 2001.

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