LISBON: The Champalimaud Center For the Unknown will officially open on the outskirts of Lisbon Tuesday, with the stated aim of working at the cutting edge of cancer research.
For some, the Center's dramatic name might evoke a touch of magical realism: but with 500 million euros' (685 million dollars) funding from the will of a Portuguese industrialist, they have the means to back their vision.
Based in Belem, at the mouth of the Tagus river, the space-age looking centre will eventually be home to nearly 400 doctors and researchers and their patients, taking an interdisciplinary approach to tackling the disease.
While the opening is Wednesday, the centre will be fully up and running only by April 2011, when it will admit its first patients.
For Leonor Beleza, president of the Champalimaud Foundation, the key aspect of the Center's approach will be the fact that doctors will treat patients and researchers will develop potential cures in the same building.
"The founder expressed the wish in his will to support medical research," she explained, referring to Antonio de Sommer Champalimaud, the industrialist who died in 2004.
"He wanted knowledge to have a practical effect on people's health," she added. It was Champalimaud who stipulated that Beleza should sit at the head of the Foundation he intended to create.
The Center itself, an imposing structure complete with an outdoor amphitheatre was designed by Mumbai-based architect Charles Correa and cost 100 million euros.
Initially it will be able to welcome 300 outpatients a day, offering them the most modern equipment available. Five years from now, the Foundation plans to build a hospital there too.
The physical lay-out of the centre will reflect the multi-disciplinary vision its founder set out for it, said Beleza.
The central four-storey building will host as many research laboratories as treatment and consultation rooms, but will also provide common space for leisure and relaxation.
"Everything in the project has been conceived around this idea of the circulation of people, of idea," said architect Correa.
The curved lines of the building, its massive circular windows, like giant lenses looking inside, give it an epic aspect.
"Those who care for the sick also do the research, the research sees the sick person in his laboratory and the sick person sees the researcher at work," Beleza explained.
"It's particularly important in the field of cancer, where research goes very fast," she added.
The Center's researchers will work along two axes: neuroscience and cancer, in particular metastases, which is to say the way cancerous tumours spread from one part of the body to another.
"We want to understand how these metastases spread and how to control them," said Raghu Kalluri, professor of medicine at Harvard University and head of research at the Champalimaud Center.
The Foundation, which has already signed several agreements with several research centres and universities across the world, is determined to attract the best specialists, regardless of where they come from, Kalluri added.
Portugal's government, seeing a chance for the country to take centre stage in a highly prestigious field, willingly gave up the 60,000-square-metres site (nearly 15 acres) for the Center.
It lies just a stone throw's away from the magnificent Belem Tower, a UNESCO world heritage site, where once the country's naval pioneers set sail for their own uncharted waters.
The symbolism is not lost on the architect Correa. He sees, 500 years on, "a call to a new adventure into the unknown, which is the very essence of science."