THE CAJAL INSTITUTE. One hundred years.
                                     by Facundo Valverde (*)
       Selecciona idioma inglés 
         Select another language    


The Laboratorio de Investigaciones Biológicas.
The first Cajal Institute.
The Cajal Institute in the Center of Biological Research.
The Cajal's Legacy and Museum.
The Department of Biophysics.
The Cajal Institute during the 60s and 70s.
The renewal of the Cajal Institute.
Bibliography, notes and links.

     Background. It is known with the name of generation of '98 a group of writers, philosophers and essayists who were deeply affected by the political and social crisis unchained by the military defeat in the Spanish-American War that resulted in the loss and shameful sale of the last Spanish overseas possessions. As a result of these events came the need to promote a movement that crystallized into a critical sentiment that would serve as an example for the renewal of the secular cultural and scientific backwardness of Spain.       

           This regenerationist movement, emerged under the leadership of Joaquin Costa, the greatest representative of the nineteenth-century intellectual movement known as regenerationism. The generation of '98 had prominent political figures who, attracted by their ideals of modernization, constituted a strong intellectual current that began in 1898, a date that will later be eponymous of the generation, with such outstanding figures as Miguel de Unamuno, Ramón María del Valle Inclán, Pío Baroja, Ramiro de Maeztu, Antonio Machado, etc.           

           Cajal arrived to Madrid in 1892 after obtaining the chair of Histology and Pathological Anatomy of the Faculty of Medicine. Madrid cheerfully was celebrating the fourth centenary of the discovery of America without suspecting that only six years later, by the agreements of Paris of December 10, 1898, Spain would lose even the last possessions that remained. At that time, Cajal already enjoyed a wide international prestige following the publication of much of his discoveries made at the Universities of Valencia and Barcelona, ​​in national and foreign scientific journals, and in the Revista trimestral de Histología normal y patológica, a quarterly journal which he himself had founded to publish his own works. Cajal was deeply affected by the "disaster of 98" to the point that his productive work was seriously diminished, as he himself recalls, precisely at a time when he worked with enthusiasm in the organization of the optical pathways, a fundamental work that had to be postponed. After recovering that dejection, he continued his work with renewed enthusiasm jumping into the political arena to intervene in numerous gatherings, giving lectures and publications of a divulging character that notably increased his figure as a renovator of science, first class traveler in the ideology of the generation of 98 that placed Cajal in the academic, intellectual and political context of that time.

            Of the more than 80 years of physical existence of the Cajal Institute, I have been, more than half of them (1958-2005), an active member of this institution, first appointed as fellow just when I was about to finish my medical studies, and finally as  Research Professor. Moreover, I am probably one, but the only person who has lived, first as a student and finally as researcher, in the three buildings and places that the Institute has had so far. I count for it with a whole series of experiences that bring me memories and remembrances of companions, people, situations and anecdotes that I think it is worth not forgetting. In reality. They are personal memories described from my particular point of view; it is, therefore, my own story (1) containing the description of facts and situations of such a singular institution adorned with some personal reflections.        

      * * * 

             The Laboratorio de Investigaciones Biológicas. (The Biological Research Laboratory). From 1897 an important impulse for the figure of Cajal was the series of lectures given in the Ateneo of Madrid and a series of articles dedicated to the regeneration of the country that appeared in the liberal press of the time (2). The first serious and direct demand for the creation of a proper institute for Cajal appeared in Vida Nueva, a literary magazine of marked ideological independence, founded by Eusebio Blasco. In his first issue of June 12, 1898, signed by Elleide, we can read:

"It would be very fair, and very convenient, for Spain to do with Cajal, what France has done with Pasteur, dedicating an Institute to it, in which the famous histologist, finds all the means of study, experimentation and teaching, and helped by  other men who, in Spain are dedicated to the study of the natural sciences, had there a dignified representation, constituting a school of higher education. This would be, not only a work of gratitude to Cajal, but a great and necessary benefit for Spanish science which would be seen that Spain enters into modern life, that we have great aspirations and faith in the future, that we are not a dying nation, and that we begin by honoring our scientists and sages; that we not only reward our heroes of war, but we also reward the heroes of thought. " (3)                

            After Cajal was awarded the Moscow Prize at the closing session of the XII International Congress of Medicine held in Paris, the medical press contributed to further highlight the image of Cajal as renovator of science and several magazines (El Siglo Médico, La Correspondencia Médica , Vida Nueva, among others) published extensive articles, and, repeatedly, insisting on the need to create a laboratory for Cajal. In this way, the extraordinary and persistent work carried out by the "fourth power" aroused the conscience of many people and the government of Francisco Silvela finally agreed to create the Laboratory of Biological Investigations, whose Royal Decree was signed by Queen Maria Cristina as Regent on October 16, 1900.           

           At first it was thought that the laboratory would be located inside the Institute Sueroterápico or Institute Alfonso XIII of which Cajal was director since 1899, idea that did not prosper since Cajal wanted to have an independent institution subject to his absolute control. Several other propositions were also dismissed until finally the laboratory settled in a hotel in Calle Ventura de la Vega to be transferred later, on the initiative of the Count of Romanones, Minister of Public Instruction, to the Anthropological Museum of Dr. Velasco on the Paseo de Atocha de Madrid, occupying the southern wing of the second floor and a part of the third. Finally, the ministries of Finance and Public Works provided the necessary funds on behalf of the State, while the personal grant would be in charge of Public Instruction.        
          There, Cajal worked for more than 20 years. We could say that part of his scientific career and some of the most important publications were born between these walls. It was the seed where several of his best known disciples began to form.     

            This Laboratory was part of the Junta para Ampliación de Estudios (JAE), an institution created in 1907 devoted to promote science and technology in Spain. The JAE also had exchange programs for teachers and students and the establishment of fellowships to study abroad. There, the best intellectuals and scientists of Spain were formed and worked between 1907 and the begining of the spanish civil war in 1936. In fact, it can be said that the time that goes from 1888, until the retirement of Cajal in 1922, was one of the most fruitful periods of research of the Nervous System carried out in Spain, and perhaps through the world, where Cajal performed practically all of his enormous work, as can be seen from the list of publications of Cajal himself and his disciples, referenced at the end of his biography (4).  That was the seedbed where practically all disciples formed integrating what came to be called the School of Cajal.        

  * * *  

             The first Cajal Institute.  The Cajal Institute has a background dating back to the late nineteenth century, when Cajal was recognized not only for his work on the fine structure of the nerve centers, but also for having received several scientific distinctions and for the support obtained after his intervention at the Congress of Anatomy in Berlin in 1889. The Institute officially began its journey in early 1920 when, at the request of Natalio Rivas, then Minister of Education and Culture, King Alfonso XIII signed a Royal Decree that an Institute should be created dedicated to the Biological Research named Cajal Institute. There, the old Biological Research Laboratory, where Cajal had worked for almost thirty years, would be relocated. In fact, it is possible that Cajal had only stepped on the Institute just the day of its inauguration and little else, because, due to his precarious state of health, he never got to work on it, bitterly regretting that this sumptuous building represented for him his noble epitaph. Cajal died in October 1934, a year after completing the building of the new Institute.

          The building began to be built in 1922 on the Cerro de San Blas, next to the Astronomical Observatory, and remained there until 1957. It was originally intended to be a large and complete research center that would incorporate various laboratories. The building, of truly spectacular dimensions for the time, did not open until 1933, more than ten years later, and during the Second Republic period. In short, until the flag was put on the roof of that institute, more than 30 years had passed since that campaign, which began at the end of the 19th century, proposed the construction of an institute endowed with adequate means where Cajal and his disciples would have all possible means for research and teaching.        

          The building consisted of five heights, distributed in three floors, another at ground level and the basement. In the upper floor was installed the Institute of Experimental Endocrinology and other laboratories of Biochemistry, Fermentation and Physiology. On the first floor was the Laboratory of Neurohistology  led by Professor Fernando de Castro, one of the most favoured and talented students of Cajal.
The new Cajal Institute was largely financed by the JAE, (Junta para Ampliación de Estudios, see above), which created scholarships and facilitated the exchange of scientists and students with numerous foreign institutions.
It was a building where I, almost at the end of its existence in 1956-57, have spent many afternoons in its library when I was studying  the last years in the Medical School in Atocha street. I remember it grandiose and disproportionate as a whole with huge rooms with high ceilings and an impressive façade.


          Professor Fernando de Castro, describing the building, wrote:

"It was of great dimensions: four floors and a basement - "a magnificent palace", as Don Santiago said - even if it was horrendous on the outside, disproportionate in its entirety and with large spaces lost inside. In each floor there were numerous rooms and very large laboratories - many of them had a surface ranging from 70 to 100 square meters - and with a large ceiling height - about 5 meters - for helpers and fellows. It also had a splendid room, with large windows, dedicated to the library, on whose shelves were distributed a hundred magazines and books on subjects related to the tasks of the center; it was one of the best libraries in Europe in matters of Neurology and Biology, containing more than 5,000 volumes and offprints, some 14,000, of incalculable value, donated by Don Santiago. In short, a chair, for conferences and courses, and a boardroom, both magnificent, completed the Institute "      

           As far as I remember, the Cajal Institute had a library, under the care of Mª Angustias Pérez de Tudela and the sister of Villaverde, jealous guardians of books, collections of magazines, many of them gift of foreign researchers to Cajal, as well as other documents and drawings of Cajal of undoubted historical and scientific value. The truth is that little else I can tell of its internal organization, referring me to the semblances and memories described by Escalona (5). While I was a student I never had the opportunity to penetrate inside, for all I did was enter the library and ask Mª Angustias to let me see the Opera omnia of Camilo Golgi, glance through some of the articles and drawings of Cajal himself and to study some text of Physiology, given my growing interest in the study of the Nervous System.         

             Cajal never moved into the building that bears his name. He himself bitterly mentions, in describing the ailments of his old age (6): "The negligible height of the hill of Cerro de San Blas seems to me to be the summit of the Maladeta, and the slope of Atocha street, the skirt of Mont Blanc." (two of the highest mountains in Europe). Even at an advanced age, we know that he had his usual place of study and work at home in la cueva (the cave), as he called it, where he had a large library, his working tools and private correspondence, a place he used until his death.

              In 1933 Cajal had appointed J.Francisco Tello director of the Institute. After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) the Cajal Institute was seriously damaged, even occupied by a group of militiamen. The institute had to be reconstructed in part, being incorporated in the patrimony of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), the Higher Council for Scientific Research, in 1940. That same year Enrique Suñer Ordoñez was appointed director, holding the position until 1941 when he was replaced by Juan Marcilla Arrazola, professor of Microbiology and Oenology in the school of Agronomos of Madrid. I never understood what relation could be considered to exist between wine and neurons, but the case is that Marcilla directed the Institute until 1946, when he was replaced by Julian Sanz Ibáñez, professor of Pathological Anatomy at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Madrid (7).

              After the disasters that occurred in the civil war of Spain, the institutional dismantling of the Cajal School was completed, which buried the Institute almost in oblivion. Its members were scattered throughout the world, especially in America. Tello, the director, was opened administrative file at the end of the war, being removed from office and expelled from the Royal Spanish Academy of Medicine. He was replaced by José María del Corral García in the direction of the Institute. In the process of purge, the most puzzling reasons that one could imagine were used: not going to mass, not having baptized their children and having held positions in the Republican Madrid. Many of the components of the Cajal School were exiled from Spain; Lorente de Nó had moved to United States some time before, "Yanquilandia," as Cajal called it. Nicolas Achúcarro had died very young, in 1918, counting only 37 years of age. José María Villaverde was killed at the beginning of the war. Lafora and Costero went to Mexico, Río Hortega to Argentina, Rodríguez Pérez and Herrera incorporated to the republican army, had to flee in later times and Francisco Tello and Fernando de Castro, who remained in Spain, were purified, remaining in the care of what Remained of the Cajal Institute (8, 9).

             In short, the Spanish civil war interrupted the consolidation of a science that had been born under the cultural designs of the former Junta para Ampliación de Estudios (JAE). The dictatorship of Franco saw in it the ideology that had inspired the civil war and for that reason it must be eliminated at all costs. As a result, a process of purge and elimination was undertaken particularly intense in universities, where many professors were expelled from their chairs and research centers or killed, dismantling and eliminating all the Spanish scientific structure that had already begun to emerge (10). A sad story that made Spain one of the most underdeveloped countries on the European continent. Cajal was the president of the JAE from its foundation in 1907 until his death in 1934, two years before the civil war began. Ignacio Bolivar, successor of Cajal to the front of the JAE, had to flee of Spain at the beginning of the war.

  * * *  

        The Cajal Institute in the Center of Biological Research.The Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Higher Council for Scientific Research, CSIC) was created in 1939 on the ashes of the extinct JAE. José Ibáñez Martín, Minister of National Education during the Franco dictatorship, was the first president of the CSIC together with José María Albareda Herrera, a member of Opus Dei, who had been appointed secretary of the CSIC, until his death in 1966. The premises and powers of the JAE were transferred to the new institution, as well as all those research centers that were not linked to universities (11). Two years later, the Cajal Institute was assigned to the CSIC and lost much of its identity. In 1957, it was installed in the new building of the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas, (Center of Biological Research, CIB), in 144 Velázquez street, Madrid. There it shared building with other research institutes of new creation dependent of the CSIC related to the Biology and others that remained dispersed in several places of the capital.

              In the new building of the CIB, the Cajal Institute occupied the ground floor and the second and third floors, which overlooked Velázquez Street and part of the central tower where the "animal room" (to call it somehow) and the operating room. There it was to be installed in later years, one of the first Zeiss electron microscopes. The Institute also had a large meeting and conference room, which later became of general use for the rest of the CIB Institutes, as well as an space to house the Cajal Museum.

              The CIB was inaugurated by Franco on February 8, 1958. At that time I was still an student and went to the library of the Cajal Institute to see some reviews. Completely oblivious to the scheduled visit Franco, I entered the lobby and was struck by a group of people arguing hotly looking through the open door into the elevator shaft. So involved they must have been in their talk that no one noticed my presence. I went up the stairs, move into the library, and started to leaf through the last numbers of some magazines. There was no people inside. Someone later told me that what those people were discussing was whether the elevator would be safe in case Franco decided to visit some of the laboratories on the upper floors. While I was comfortably seated and unaware of what was going on around me, a man suddenly entered, who must have been some security policeman, for he had a telephone in his hand the size of a brick from which a long antenna protruded. Quite surprised by my presence told me that I should not be there and that what I should do was go home. It was the first, and only, time I was expelled from the Cajal Institute.      

  * * *  

    The Cajal's Legacy and Museum. The Cajal Institute preserves what has come to be called the Cajal Legacy, belongings that Cajal himself wished to have been preserved in the Institute when he passed away. Cajal had named, as his only universal heirs of all his assets, actions and rights, to his five children. In one of the sections of the testamentary there is a legacy to the Cajal Institute, where all his histological preparations and scientific instruments (two microscopes, a photography machine and a microtome) are ceded. Later, his sons and heirs had the idea of ​​creating a museum, always attached to the Cajal Institute, which would serve as a souvenir for teaching and encouragement for future generations and, to make it possible, the family of Cajal provided numerous objects such as prizes, medals, academic titles, decorations, etc. (Photographs, paintings, manuscripts, letters, etc.) in sufficient quantity to organize a museum that would permanently remember the human and scientific personality of his father. The contribution was free, with no time limit and no waiver of ownership. These are the funds that constitute the museum and which is known under the name Legacy Ramon y Cajal and of which the Institute is currently depositary (12).   

               Over the time, the Legacy of Cajal has suffered lamentable neglect and negligence in its conservation. It is known that Cajal, especially after obtaining the Nobel Prize in 1906, maintained a very active and frequent postal exchange with other scientists worldwide. In his study of the epistolary of Cajal (13), Santarén mentions that the complete correspondence, which the Cajal Institute guarded, should contain some 15,000 letters sent or received by Cajal, of which only 25% of them, perhaps those of the lowest value, remain. It seems that a great part of the rest were subtracted from the institute in 1976 and offered and sold to an old bookstore in Madrid. These letters ended finally in the National Library which, at least, has preserved them in perfect condition. I myself could see that a good part of Cajal's histological preparations remained in sliding trays of some closet from which any visitor could take what he wanted. I must also mention that in some center I visited abroad, someone showed me genuine preparations of Cajal with his handwritten tags. 

                The Cajal Museum was inaugurated for the first time in 1945 in the first site that had the Institute in Cerro de San Blas. He was later transferred to the new Cajal Institute in the CIB in a smaller room but perfectly equipped to house a good sample of the Legacy. Here the walls were covered with all their appointments, medals and honors. In the showcases of the museum they could be seen from the diploma of grant of the Nobel Prize signed by the International Committee that granted the prize to him, to his spectacles and the razors of barber with his leather sharpener that used to soften the razor and thus to obtain the most fine histological sections. Manuscripts of some of his works, several original drawings and small notebooks could also be seen, detailing the quantities and components of some recipe for staining of tissues written in the purest, expressive language that Cajal used. On more than one occasion, I had to explain to some visitor, who did not know the language of Cervantes, and who I had accompanied to visit that noble room, who asked me: "what is a pizca (a small bit) of neutral red" or wanted to know "how many milliliters contain one chorrito (trickle) of formaldehyde. " There were also cabinets with elaborate carved walnut trees, where one could still admire what remained of some of his best preparations (14) and a table, which he said had been his place of work, with jars, scales, wells, a sliding microtome and a monocular microscope of doubtful origin.
                The academic gown and cap ruffled a high-backed chair that accompanied the table. In one of the corners there was what someone called Cajal's "macroscope," a huge telescope that might serve to contemplate the infinitely large after examining and studying the infinitely small and still visible in the new headquarters that the Institute has in the Avenida del Doctor Arce of Madrid. A post-mortem mask made by the sculptor Juan Cristobal may behold the visitors from the afterlife. The museum served for years as a must visit for the admiration of persons who, in one way or another, passed through the institution.
  * * *  

The Department of Biophysics. In 1960 I entered as a fellow in the Department of Biophysics, where Professor Antonio Fernández de Molina, who had offered me to work in his department, was in charge. At that time, this Department functioned as an independent unit at the Center for Biological Research. A few months later the Department would be assigned to the Cajal Institute of which it would be part.

               Professor Antonio Fernández de Molina was born in Bujalance (Córdoba).
He studied medicine in Madrid, here he obtained the doctor's degree in 1947. He was an Associate Researcher between 1949 and 1957 in various laboratories in Geneva, Bern, London and Zürich. He worked on the modulating role of amygdaloid nuclei and sensory integration, as well as in learning processes, memory and behavior.

               He participated actively in the creation of European scientific societies EBBS (European Brain and Behavior Society) and ENA (European Neuroscience Association).
Between 1953 and 1975, he was Research Professor at the CSIC, and in 1957 he created the Department of Biophysics. Visiting Researcher at the Universities of Utah, Iowa and New York, he was also Professor of Physiology at the Universities of Córdoba (1975) and Salamanca (1978-1986). Among other honors, he was awarded the National Science Prize in 1960, honorary academician of the National Academy of Medicine of Colombia and scientific advisor of the "Gregorio Marañón Foundation". He was Academic Number of the Royal National Academy of Medicine, No. 29. To Antonio Fernández de Molina I owe an imperishable memory of gratitude for all that helped me, not only in the beginning of my scientific career, welcoming me in his Department as a fellow, but also as a counselor and friend throughout his life. Apart from his work as a researcher and his numerous publications in relevant journals, one of the merits that I consider most valuable in the career of Professor Antonio Fernández de Molina was to get Spain included in the prestigious International Scholarship Program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the United States of America, whose program it administered for several years. It represented a breakthrough of enormous relevance in the development of biomedical research in Spain by the large number of fellows who were trained as researchers thanks to this program (among which I am). He died on February 17, 2007.


                As far as I am concerned, I began to prepare my doctoral thesis. I studied and worked in a corner of the Department where, in the absence of a labor table, I had managed to saw in two halves an old wardrobe of more than 2 meters high whose two pieces served as a support for the table, a huge, old and thick door rescued from the store I found in the basement of the CIB. I finished my doctoral thesis, which was presented at the Faculty of Medicine of Madrid in May 1962, led by Professor Fernando de Castro and Dr. Antonio Fernández de Molina. In 1963 I went to USA. As a postdoctoral fellow under the National Institutes of Health scholarship program, joining the Department of Anatomy at the Harvard Medical School in Boston under the direction of Professor Sanford L. Palay.          

  * * *  

   The Cajal Institute during the 60s and 70s. In 1960 the Cajal Institute was practically an empty site devoid of scientific activity. As mentioned above, Professor Julián Sanz Ibáñez was appointed director of the Institute in 1946. He was responsible for the transfer and part of the organization of the institute in 1957 in the new CIB Velázquez's building. Professor Sanz Ibáñez used to appear at the Institute late in the afternoon and not every day. He was Professor of Pathology at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Madrid, with which I had studied Pathology. Professor Sanz Ibáñez died unexpectedly in 1963 and Alfredo Carrato, professor of Plant and Animal Histology at the Faculty of Biology was named director of the institute which maintained until his retirement in 1981.   

               Professor Fernando de Castro had his quarters on the second floor of the Institute. He used to arrive at the Institute about ten o'clock at night and there he stayed well into the night talking with César Aguirre, one of his assistant professors, or with Mr. Álvarez, the owner of a known store of medical equipment in Atocha street, apparently a great friend of him. Professor de Castro complained, on more than one occasion, having living as a surgical assistant, since the salary of professor did not give him a decent salary to live. This was the way in which a great scientist who was at the forefront of the Nobel Prizes was kept in Spain! (see also reference number 8). Every so often, well into the night, he could say to one of his helpers, "Let the fellow pass!" That fellow was me when I was preparing my doctoral thesis under his direction. I would tell him a little what I was doing and show him some drawings and schemes I had done. In one of these evenings Professor de Castro used to tell me some old details about Cajal, procedures of histological stainings and anecdotes of the old institute.I remember him as a serious person, of little conversation but feared and respected by all the staff that we were around him  (see also reference number 8).          

            Since my return from the United States in 1966 until the Institute was moved to its present headquarters in 1989, it is where I conducted most of my own research on the nervous system, which had a considerable international impact judged by the impact indexes of the journals in which they were published (15).      

            Professor Fernando de Castro, along with Rafael Lorente de Nó, was one of the last disciples of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, with whom he began to work in 1916, and whom he would not leave until the death of Cajal. Castro studied the innervation of the glomus caroticum, a dilation of the internal carotid artery where he studied the glomic cells that detect pressure changes in the blood vessels (baro-receptors) and of the chemical composition of circulating blood (chemo-receptors). Although these early studies, published between 1926 and 1928, led him to the doors of the Nobel Prize, it was the Belgian C. Heymans, based on the chemoreceptor function described for the first time by Fernando de Castro, who continued a series of works by which was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1938. Fernando de Castro was always considered to have shared this award with C. Heymans himself. He was honorary member of the Faculty of Medicine of several national and foreign Universities, laureate by the Royal National Academy of Medicine and, among other merits and distinctions, in 1966 he received the Great Cross of the Civil Order of Alfonso X "el Sabio".    

            Fernando de Castro had been invited to contribute several chapters in the celebrated treatise on neurology "Citology and Cellular Pathology of the Nervous System" by Wilder Penfield (1932), a classic in the study of the Nervous System and which I myself handled quite frequently during my later studies in spite of being already a compendium somewhat old-fashioned. The ability that de Castro acquired in the histological technique won him to be chosen by Cajal to publish jointly the famous book "Elements of micrographic technique of the Nervous System", in 1933, a true vademecum of micrographic technique, that for me had to be of great utility.         

          In 1934 Fernando de Castro was awarded a scholarship by the Rockefeller Foundation at the University of Turin (Italy)working in the laboratory of Giuseppe Levi, famous histologist and professor of Anatomy. He carried out studies on organotypic cultures of the chicken spinal cord. Professor Levi, a great friend of Cajal, directed the laboratory of Human Anatomy in which it is necessary to emphasize that three students would obtain the Nobel Prize of Physiology or Medicine in later years: Salvador E. Luria (1969), Renato Dulbecco (1975 ) And Rita Levi-Montalcini (1986). For reasons that are not relevant, Professor Levi was persecuted and imprisoned as an opponent of the Mussolini regime. Fernando de Castro communicated this event to Cajal who was 82 years old at that time. Without hesitation Cajal wrote directly to the Duce praising Professor Levi's personality and international status, requesting his freedom and pointing out the importance of the work being carried out in his laboratory. That letter had the desired effect, and in a few days Professor Levi was released. On the same date that Cajal wrote to Mussolini, he sent another letter to his disciple in which he told him what had happened, a letter which Fernando de Castro gave to Levi as a memento to his dear friend (16).

            Fernando de Castro died on April 15, 1967 and, as I recall, the chapel had been set up, with great urgency, at the Cajal Institute Museum, which brought a few headaches to Avelino Pérez Geijo, managing director of the CIB, knowing the great number of people who were expected to pass by the Institute to pay homage. Indeed, the next day, in an interminable parade of personalities, academics and professors, we gave the last farewell to one of the last representatives of the Cajal Institute and school (Lorente de Nó died in Tucson, Arizona in 1990).


  * * *  

  The renewal of the Cajal Institute. In late 1969 and early 1970 the traditional fields of Anatomy, Physiology and Psychiatry, among other disciplines related to the study of the brain and its diseases, experienced an unprecedented growth that resulted in the emergence of a new science that was made known under the name of Neuroscience. This new discipline was consolidated mainly due to the advances of molecular biology, electrophysiology, pharmacology and pathology among others. The study of the nervous system became a multidisciplinary task encompassing how many specialties that could be used to understand the functioning of the brain. A good example of this was the creation and development of societies and associations that proliferated in practically all countries interested in the cultivation of Neurobiology. The scientific literature was not far behind, and just as in the early 1960s it was difficult to find beyond half a dozen major journals where to publish Neurobiology (perhaps a couple of them in England, three or four in the US and some Zeitschrift in Germany), in the late 1960s, Elsevier in Holland launched his "Brains" journals, Springer, in Germany, was not left behind with the launch of new publications and in North America appeared others that, altogether, increased considerably , and in a very short time, the circulation and the frequency of publications on Neuroscience.      

             With the introduction of the Neurosciences, all the "neuro's" that one could imagine, from neuro-genetics to neuro-linguistics, or to neuro-pharmacology, could already be put in the same bag. Several countries, including Spain, favored, financed and carried out numerous congresses, meetings, anniversaries, symposia and even a year or one decade were devoted to the brain. Large projects were sponsored and congresses and workshops promoted and funded. Under the umbrella of this renowned discipline, it was easy to give shelter to a whole series of researchers who brought their project to this hot point, coming from other fields, sometimes alien or very tangential, to those of Neurobiology itself. There are also medicak doctors, chemists, biologists, pharmacologists, computer scientists, mathematicians and many others, just adding the prefix "neuro" to the discipline that each one cultivates, so it is not uncommon for the appearance of works signed by 20 or more authors of varied disciplines in a list that, sometimes, appears longer than the own summary that heads an article.

             At the beginning of 1980, with a democracy that was practically new, there was an atmosphere of renewal and change in Spain that, although for different reasons, reminded of the regenerationist movement that took place at the end of the 19th century. This renewal movement also meant a substantial change for the CSIC in its organization. In the CIB there were a large number of researchers who had completed their training abroad, evolving scientifically and incorporating new technologies and cutting-edge research lines. The Center for Molecular Biology "Severo Ochoa", founded in 1975, a joint center between the Autonomous University of Madrid and the CSIC, had brought together several of the most active groups in the fields of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, many of them from the CIB itself. Something similar would happen with the Biomedical Research Institute "Alberto Sols", also a joint center between the Autonomous University of Madrid and the CSIC. However, the Cajal Institute had not incorporated the methods and techniques of a leading research, having been anchored in the methodologies of the time of its foundation. The poor scientific leadership and the lack of adequate funds were the major causes for its rundown state so that the management team of the CSIC considered as a priority a renewal of the Institute based on those experiences of renewal that were giving such good results in other research centers (17).

              In 1981 Prof. Carrato retired as director of the Cajal Institute and the management team of the CSIC, presided by Alejandro Nieto (1980-1983) as president and Emilio Muñoz as vice-president, considered that the renewal of the Institute could be a milestone that deserved It is worth trying as a first step of critical analysis of the scientific activity of a CSIC center. Thus, as a first step, a commission was appointed consisting of several researchers including José Gómez-Acebo, Ricardo Martínez (father) and myself. This commission was in charge to carry out a detailed study of the Institute's situation with an assessment of the possibilities of the future according to the modern scientific trajectories that had been carried out by other research centers. Among several possible evaluators, it was decided to invite W. Maxwell Cowan from the Salk Institute of San Diego, California (USA) and Hendrik van der Loos, a professor at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) to carry out a report on the situation of the Institute , as well as to indicate how many suggestions could be made to place it in the place that could correspond to it as a center of excellence.

             Both evaluators proceeded to carry out, in different periods, a detailed report of the results obtained after the interviews with the research personnel and of the visit to the different laboratories and dependencies of the Cajal Institute, reports that were given to some members of the commission and the authorities of the CSIC in the spring-summer of 1982. To be honest, it must be said that both reports were devastating for the institute. However, a number of conclusions and recommendations were drawn from them. The first one was that, as the standard of other national and foreign centers of excellence (Dr. Cowan referred several times to the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center, which he had visited), the Cajal Institute should not continue in the situation that had dragged on from the last years. In particular, there was a lack of scientific leadership, the isolation of some members of the Institute and the type of obsolete research, working on problems that would have been of interest 30 or 40 years ago and frozen in procedures and techniques of the past. Both evaluators emphasized the poor equipment and organization of many laboratories, the lack of space and the unfortunate state of the animal quarters, where cats, rabbits, rats, mice and any other living creatures were housed .

               The evaluators were very critical with the system of access to the research career that given the characteristics of the Spanish civil service, it would be impossible to implement. There was a complete coincidence in the need to appoint an "International Advisory Board", composed of half a dozen scientists of renowned prestige and knowledge of modern Neurobiology, who provided assistance and advice in the administrative and scientific re-structuring of the Institute and that they periodically undertake to follow up on the Institute's activities.

               In view of all this, the renewal of the Cajal Institute was started, which was to be carried out under the supervision of the vice president of the CSIC. A new director was appointed, who relied on the person of Joaquín del Río, from the Institute of Organic Chemistry. It became reorganized the distribution of spaces within the Institute and proceeded to the incorporation of the group of Neuropharmacology of the own Joaquín del Río and the Neuroendocrinology group from the "Gregorio Marañón" Institute of Endocrinology of the same CIB.

                The reinstatement of further scientific groups, including a new staff, scholarship holders and auxiliary staff, made insufficient the space available to the Cajal Institute at the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas (CIB) in Velázquez Street,  so the construction of a new building was proceeded in Avenida del Dr. Arce, 37, in the district of Chamartín, Madrid. The new center was inaugurated in October of 1989 and we moved that same year. There the Institute remains geographically and scientifically isolated, especially since the CIB moved to the University City in 2004.

In its present location, the Cajal's Legacy and Museum ceased to be exhibited as it had previously been in the CIB. Although the project of the new building contemplated the installation of the museum in one of the wings of the building, it seems that the need to have large offices for management, administration, meeting rooms, secretarial and maintenance rooms occupied
the little space that remained available.

                However, in the library of the institute a small permanent exhibition was installed, which shows a careful selection of some of the most personal and interesting objects of the Cajal's Legacy. The rest is protected and stored in a room in adequate conditions of temperature and humidity waiting for one day to decide to install a museum, repeatedly requested by various institutions and collectives, the College of Medicine and the family and heirs of Cajal. Presumably, in a new museum, the legacy of Cajal, considered the father of current Neuroscience and teacher of teachers (18), may conveniently and decently be exhibited, in fair and due resemblance to what other countries have done with their great figures of the science. 

                 In the process of renewal of the Cajal Institute and following the recommendations of the evaluators Cowan and van der Loos, in 1985 an external evaluation committee was appointed and, according to my notes of the same year, it was composed of E.Costa of the National Institute Of Mental Health (USA), C.Cuello of Oxford University (UK), H.M.Gerschenfeld of the École Normale Superieure of Paris (France), F.Reinoso-Suárez of the Faculty of Medicine of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) and H. van der Loos of the Institute of Anatomy of the Faculty of Medicine of Lausanne (Switzerland). It is assumed that this committee should come to the Institute regularly and meet with the different research groups and proceed with an evaluation and advice on the work done. I know that, since we moved to the new building in 1989, this evaluation committee had to come two or three times, but my laboratory did not receive any visits. I greeted some of them in the corridor, and I really wish they would visit us and hear some of their recommendations about what we were doing. In short, I know that they came, what I do not know is what they came for.

                Subsequently, other groups of researchers from different centers were added, which would have to contribute new lines of research. The leadership of the Institute has remained in the hands of different researchers who, with variable success and fortune, were to alternate in later years without no more transcendence than the electoral procedures and a government supervised. The election of a new director, in my opinion, should fall on a scientist of recognized prestige without any political interference, with the consent of the Institute board. It does not escape me that the task of director requires a dedication that would remove any researcher from his work, so it should be suggested the additional presence of a kind of managing-director who would be in cahrge to carry out bureaucratic and internal organization tasks, of concertation and search of adequate financing for the realization of different projects. Sometime, I thought that the leadership of the Institute could be offered to some important foreign scientist of recognized solvency. I'm sure that more than one would accept the task.

                A number of researchers from the Institute have emerged in recent years towards other institutions. A paradigmatic case is the Institute of Neurosciences of Alicante that functioned as a unit associated with the Cajal Institute and later became a joint center between the "Miguel Hernández" University of Elche and the CSIC. Among other examples we find the Research Unit of the Toledo Paraplegics Hospital, which also received a good number of personnel trained in the Cajal Institute.

               If an evaluation is made of the results of the renewal of the Cajal Institute, that was undertaken in 1981, and despite the many technical problems and difficulties that have arisen during this last period, the result has been positive. The new Institute was built following the most efficient recommendations to be, without a doubt, a modern center with all the necessary endowment for the development of research in neurobiology. It is currently a center of reference in neurosciences, not only in Spain, but also in the international sphere protected under the identity that provides the memory and legacy of Ramón y Cajal. The Institute currently has more than 200 people among researchers and support staff and a scientific activity materialized in a growing impact index resulting from the results of different lines of research that ultimately seek to understand the development, functioning and pathology of the most complex structure known, our brain (19).


              In 2005, the transfer of the Cajal Institute to a new location near Instituto de Medicina Molecular Príncipe de Asturias on the campus of the University of Alcalá de Henares was announced. The center was to become a world benchmark and have the most cutting-edge technology to collect the witness of more than a century of scientific effort in the field of neuroscience. In 2008 authorities and other extras took the photo of the laying of the first stone. The building was finished in 2011 and from that pharaonic work today there remains only a sad memory; the crisis arrived and the institute has remained where it was with a lack of really unfortunate space. There have been other attempts to relocate in the Rey Juan Carlos University and in places such as the Complutense and the Autonomous Universities, but nothing has been done so far.



 * * *   

Bibliography, notes and links.

Clic in the reference number to return to the reading point.

(1)   Reproduced from  Los Recuerdos de una Vida. La forja de un científico. Pp. 150 y ss.  Numbered Efition, © 2012, Montelouro.

(2)   González de Pablo,Á. (1998) El Noventayocho y las nuevas instituciones científicas. La creación del Laboratorio de Investigaciones Biológicas de Ramón y Cajal. Acta Hisp.Med.Sci.Hist.Illus, 18:51-79.

(3)   From: Hemeroteca Digital, Biblioteca Nacional de España. Instituto Cajal. Vida Nueva, 26 de junio de 1898.

(4)    Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Recuerdos de mi vida. Edition by Juan Fernández Santarén. Colección de Clásicos de la Ciencia y la Tecnología. Fundación Iberdrola, 2006.

(5)   Escalona,J. (2002) Recuerdos personales del primer Instituto Cajal. Rev.Esp.Patol., 35:493-496.

(6)   Santiago Ramón y Cajal. El mundo visto a los 80 años. Impresiones de un arteriosclerótico. Espasa-Calpe, Colección Austral, Madrid, Octava edición, 1970.

(7)    Santesmases,Mª.J. (2001) Entre Cajal y Ochoa: Ciencias biomédicas en la España de Franco (1939-1975). Cap. 3. El legado de Cajal en la reconstrucción del sistema de investigación en España. Pp. 38-58. Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología, CSIC.

(8)   de Carlos,J.A. and Pedraza,M. (2014) Santiago Ramón y Cajal: The Cajal Institute and the spanish histological school. Anat. Rec., 297:1785-1802.

(9)     González Santander, R. (2005). La escuela histológica española. VII. El Instituto Cajal. La guerra civil y la posguerra (1936–1943). Madrid, Spain: C.E.R.S.A.

(10)    Castillo Martos,M. y  Rubio Mayoral,J.L. (2015) Enseñanza, Ciencia e Ideología en España (1890-1950). Diputación de Sevilla y Vitela Gestión Cultural. Resúmen:

(11)  Puig-Samper,M.A. (ed.) (2007) Tiempos de investigación. JAE-CSIC, cien años de ciencia en España. Anuario de Estudios Americanos, 64:349-355. (Edición digital).

(12)  Ramón y Cajal Junquera, Mª.A. (2002) Orígenes del Museo Ramón y Cajal, del Legado y sus vicisitudes. Rev.Española de Patología, vol. 35, nº 4.

(13)   Fernández Santarén, J.A.  (2014) Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Epistolario. La Esfera de los Libros. Fundación Ignacio Larramendi. Comentario, resúmen:

(14)  de Castro,F., López-Mascaraque,L. and De Carlos, J.A. (2007) Cajal: Lessons on brain development. Brain Res.Rev., 55:481-489. (Contains some photographies and representative drawings from various works of Cajal).

(15)   Valverde,F. (1971-1991) Anatomía de la Memoria (The Anatomy of Memory). See Ref. (1).

(16)   Diez cartas de Santiago Ramón y Cajal a Fernando de Castro. Numbered copy printed by his son Fernando-Guillermo in 1972, who was kind enough to give me a copy.

(17)    Borrell,J. (2010) El Instituto Cajal en el Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas. Cap. 8, pp. 131-144. En: Los cincuenta años del Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas, su impacto en el desarrollo de las Ciencias Biológicas en España. Coordinador: Vicente Larraga. Fundación Ramón Areces.

(18)    Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Tribuna. Several authors. El País.

(19)    Welcome to the Cajal Institute.

(*) Facundo Valverde
Research Professor
Cajal Institute (CSIC) 1962-2005






gadgets contador de visitas