Funding for the research network has more than doubled to nearly HUF 50 billion, researcher salaries have been increased by an average of 30 percent, budget allocation has been transformed to consider the institutions’ scientific performance, which promotes scientific excellence – these are some of the key achievements of the Eötvös Loránd Research Network during its first two years of operation. In addition to broadening and strengthening international relations, a new system aimed at providing comprehensive support for researchers in innovation management is being developed. Adding new areas and institutions to the network also features among future plans.
The Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) celebrates the 2nd anniversary of its foundation. The ELKH Secretariat was established by the Hungarian Parliament effective August 1, 2019, with the aim of managing and operating Hungary’s publicly funded independent research network. It is led by a 13-member Governing Board, six members of which are nominated by the President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and six members by the Minister for Technology and Innovation, and they jointly nominate the President. All nominees are appointed by the Prime Minister of Hungary. The President and most members of the Governing Board are members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
“In the two years since our foundation, we have achieved forward-looking results in several areas, including the development of the research network, improving researcher salaries, significantly increasing the funds available to the research network, and the development and introduction of a three-pillar financing model for resource allocation. All these contribute to increase efficiency and transparency,” said ELKH President Miklós Maróth on the anniversary. He added: “The establishment of a professional organization and management dedicated to the research network has enabled targeted, efficient and fast decision-making, and has allowed for the provision of more focused support to the institutions.”
ELKH’s mission is to protect and advance academic freedom, to ensure more efficient and effective operation of the research network, and to promote scientific excellence in the areas of both basic and applied research. One of the most significant achievements is the increase in the funds allocated to the research network. As a result, the budget of ELKH has been more than doubled reaching close to HUF 50 billion annually. The increase in funding has allowed to commence the development of the research infrastructure, provide resources for research and begin the long-awaited pay rise. The salaries of the researchers and all employees of the research network have been increased by an average of 30 percent.
The replacement of the former civil servant status with employment contracts based on the Hungarian Labor Code has enhanced the freedom and flexibility of the institutions in determining salaries and also significantly reduced their administrative burden.
ELKH has developed and introduced a new three-pillar financing model to replace the former static system. Under the new model, the main scientific metrics and other measurable scientific achievements of the institutions over the past three years are also considered when allocating the resources for research. From 2021, the funds provided to the research sites fully cover their operating costs and the resources needed for specific, long-term research. Decisions on the use of resources dedicated to subtasks has been delegated to the institution heads, thus significantly increasing both the autonomy and the accountability of the institutions. As it is built on verified objective data, the process has become more transparent. The new system aims to encourage scientific excellence, which will also help increase the competitiveness of the research network.
ELKH is in the process of developing a new internal innovation system with the aim of improving scientific competitiveness, leveraging external research funding opportunities more effectively and ensuring more efficient use of the intellectual property portfolio of the research network. A two-tier advisory network is being built to effectively assist institutions and researchers in innovation management, in obtaining funding from tenders and other external resources, as well as in industrial property protection and utilization matters related to research results.
Recently, ELKH has joined four major international organizations. Science Europe is the most significant among these. Science Europe is an association of major European research funding and research performing organizations. Also notable is our International Science Council membership. In addition, ELKH has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) to strengthen and further develop scientific cooperation between the two institutions.
“By developing the infrastructure, improving research conditions, and increasing salaries, we want to make it worthwhile for our researchers to stay and carry out research in Hungary, as well as encouraging those working abroad to return home. We need to stop the brain drain, which is only possible by continuing to improve salary conditions, which will however require an increase in budgetary support,” emphasized the President of ELKH. “An important factor in increasing efficiency is to identify the niche areas in each field of science where we can achieve world-leading results, while also considering the social and economic needs of Hungary. We are in the process of defining these areas in cooperation with the institution heads. In addition, new research areas that are not as yet covered are being identified, where, building on the skills and capabilities available in the country, we may be able to achieve considerable results. Our plans also include expanding the research network in these directions,” added Miklós Maróth.
On May 19, 2021, the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) became the newest member of Science Europe.
Science Europe is an association of major European research funding and research performing organizations in 28 countries, established in 2011 to promote the collective interest of its members and to foster collaboration between them.
The Science Europe General Assembly approved ELKH’s membership application. Secretary-General Dr. Lidia Borrell-Damián welcomed ELKH as a new Member Organization. The addition of ELKH to the network further helps to strengthen and diversify its network and increase its ability to support excellence in research of Europe and beyond.
“Science Europe is pleased to welcome ELKH as an organization that plays a central role in its respective national research system in Europe. We look forward to collaborating with ELKH and enriching our association with its expertise” said Marc Schiltz, President of Science Europe.
President of ELKH, Dr. Miklós Maróth welcomed the announcement. “We highly appreciate the opportunity to join Science Europe and together with its distinguished members contribute to the advancement of science. The mission of ELKH is to operate Hungary’s publicly funded research network with a continued emphasis on excellence. Crucial to delivering our mission is to help translate the results of basic and applied research into solutions that address domestic and global, social and environmental challenges and look to a future of building new partnerships in related research programs. We support Hungary’s endeavour to strengthen its position in Europe’s R&I ecosystem and are committed to contributing to its development. I look forward to our involvement in shaping the best conditions and policies for scientific research in Europe in partnership with Science Europe”.
Science Europe now represents 38 research funders and performers from 28 countries. Its members make a significant contribution to European scientific research, are crucial stakeholders in European science and research policymaking, and spend €23.9 billion on research per year.
Science Europe carries out advocacy and policy activities in a variety of research policy areas including Cross-border Collaboration, EU Framework Programmes: Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe, Innovation and Impact, Open Access to Scientific Publications, and Open Science amongst others.
For more information about Science Europe see: https://www.scienceeurope.org/
For more information about Science Europe Member Organisations see: https://scienceeurope.org/about-us/members/
Cooperation between CNRS and ELKH may open new perspectives for the scientific and technological relations of France and Hungary
Leaders of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on March 29, 2021. The purpose of the agreement is to strengthen and further develop scientific cooperation between the two institutions.
As a result of nearly a year of preparatory work, a strategically important cooperation agreement was reached between the Eötvös Loránd Research Network and the French basic research organization, CNRS. The signing of the agreement took place partly virtually and partly in person: with the participation of CNRS at the Hungarian Embassy in Paris and ELKH at the French Ambassador’s residence in Budapest. Ambassador Pascale Andréani from France and Ambassador György Habsburg from Hungary praised the agreement; the signatories were Miklós Maróth, President of ELKH and Alain Schuhl, Deputy Director General of CNRS.
Scientific representatives agreed that the signing of the agreement could open up new perspectives for scientific and technological cooperation between France and Hungary, as well as further expand the international relations of the two parties. The missions of ELKH and CNRS are almost identical: to promote the development of their respective countries through science. In order to achieve this goal and to increase the innovation capacity of the Hungarian economy, it is essential to take inspiration from other successful international models.
In his speech at the signing ceremony, Miklós Maróth, President of ELKH, emphasized that CNRS serves as one of the main points of reference in the international scientific world due to its network structure, strategic operating model, funding system, cooperation with higher education institutions and economic exploitation of research results, which can also serve as a compass in the promotion of Hungarian research and development.
Alain Schuhl praised the research and innovation relations between the two countries, which are already good, and highlighted the specific joint research topics underway with the relevant ELKH research institutes. He also expressed hope for the further broadening of research collaborations.
The Governing Board of the Eötvös Loránd Research Network has elected the directors of the three research institutes belonging to the research network that will become independent on April 1, 2021. In making its decisions, the Governing Board considered the reports of the ad hoc committees set up to assess the applications.
Newly appointed leaders:
Veterinary Medical Research Institute (VMRI): director Tibor Magyar, formerly director
Tibor Magyar is a doctor of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, holds a PhD in veterinary science and is head of the Respiratory Bacteriology Group. His main scientific fields include veterinary microbiology, bacteriology, epidemiology, respiratory diseases and swine health.
Balaton Limnological Research Institute (BLKI): director Tibor Erős, formerly acting director
Tibor Erős is a certified biologist, doctor of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and head of the Fish and Conservation Ecology Research Group of the institute. His main scientific fields include fish ecology, community ecology, nature conservation biology, biological water classification, monitoring.
Institute of Earth Physics and Space Sciences (FI): director Viktor Wesztergom, formerly acting director
Viktor Wesztergom is a certified geophysicist, specialist economist with a PhD in earth sciences, habilitated doctor, and honorary lecturer. His main scientific fields include geophysics, Sun-Earth physical relations, geomagnetism and electromagnetic deep structure research.
Mankind has decided to take another big step in the conquest and utilization of outer space. In the mid-2020s, a space station known as the Gateway will be built to orbit around the Moon as an international collaboration.
The TRITEL dosimeter, developed in the Space Research Department of the ELKH Centre for Energy Research, will be one of the components of the space station’s Internal Dosimeter Array (IDA)recently approved by the European Space Agency.
The main goal is to protect astronauts
The IDA will measure the dose and characteristics of ionizing radiation passing through and generated in the space station’s Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) as a function of time. Given that astronauts will be exposed to radiation on board the space station on average 250 times more per year than on the Earth’s surface, radiation dose measurement is of paramount importance for their health. Using measurement data from the European Radiation Sensors Array (ERSA) located on the external platform of the Gateway, it will be possible to examine how effectively the wall of the space station also provides protection against radiation from space.
A TRITEL dosimeter, credits: Centre for Energy Research
In addition to TRITEL, Hungary’s contribution to the space station orbiting the Moon, ESA has invited the Centre for Energy Research (CER) to develop and breadboard the IDA central unit in the frame of direct negotiation. This will be the (interface) unit through which the detectors of the IDA system are connected to the power supply and communication system of the space station. The prototype of the IDA central unit and the TRITEL dose measurement system will be manufactured by REMRED Ltd., a space company founded by the Centre for Energy Research.
The Gateway will be one-third to one-quarter of the size of the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting the Earth for more than 20 years. It will not be permanently inhabited, but will play an important role in future human missions landing on the surface of the Moon.
The station, however, is not a destination but a milestone on the road to the human journey to Mars. The experience gained in the area around the Moon is intended to be used in future missions to Mars to ensure the health and safety of astronauts.
The space station, which will weigh nearly 40 tons, will orbit the Moon flying as close as 3,000 km from the lunar surface and up to 70,000 km at its furthest.
Gateway concept, credits: ESA
More than 40 years of experience
Hungary joined the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2015 and joined the space agency’s Human and Robotic Exploration optional program, among other optional programs, at the ESA Ministerial Council in 2019. Hungary has more than four decades of experience in studying the radiation exposure of astronauts in space. At the Centre for Energy Research a number of active and non-powered, so-called passive dose measurement systems have been developed, with which measurements were made on board human spacecraft and satellites. Last year marked 40 years since the first Hungarian-developed dose measuring instrument, the Pille, ascended into space. It was used by the astronaut Bertalan Farkas to make measurements on board the Saljut-6 space station. As part of US, ESA and Russian collaborations, various versions of the system have since been used in a number of spacecraft. As part of the Russian segment’s service system, the latest version of the Pille has been operating continuously and reliably on board the ISS since 2003. Most recently, another Pille was put into service on the ISS in June 2018. CER has also been participating in ESA’s DOSIS and DOSIS-3D dose mapping programs in the European Columbus research module by providing passive dosimeters since 2009, as well as in the Columbus and Russian Zvezda modules with its silicon detector dosimeter system TRITEL.
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov in the Zvezda Service Modul of ISS with the TRITEL instrument, source: NASA
With effect from March 1, 2021, the Governing Board of the Eötvös Loránd Research Network has elected the leaders of six research centers, one independent research institute and the Office for Supported Research Groups, which manages the administration of around 150 independent research groups based at universities and other public institutions. The call for applications for research site leaders was announced because the term of office of the previous heads of the institutes was due to expire.
In making its decisions, the Governing Board took into account the report of an ad-hoc committee set up to assess the applications, which also included a representative of the relevant research site.
In the case of six institutions, former heads of institutions with long-term research and extensive managerial experience were re-elected. At one institution, the former Director-General has retired, and the former Deputy Director General for Science, who also has long-term research and management experience, has been appointed Director-General. This continuity ensures the stability of the operation of research sites. In the case of the Office for Supported Research Groups, a specialist with significant managerial experience in public administration was selected to lead the office.
Newly appointed leaders:
- Research Centre for the Humanities (BTK): Balázs Balogh, Director General, formerly Deputy Director General
- Centre for Energy Research (EK): Ákos Horváth, Director General, formerly Director General
- Institute of Experimental Medicine (KOKI): Zoltán Nusser, Director, formerly Acting Director
- Research Centre for Economic and Regional Studies (KRTK): Imre Fertő, Director General, formerly Acting Director General
- Biological Research Centre (BRC): Ferenc Nagy, Director General, formerly Director General
- Research Centre for Natural Sciences (TTK): László Buday, Director General, formerly Acting Director General
- Wigner Research Centre for Physics (Wigner FK): Péter Lévai, Director General, formerly Director General
- Office for Supported Research Groups (TKI): Attila Ács, Director
A unique new method developed by researchers in Szeged uses the most advanced artificial intelligence to enable a more thorough examination of the brain cells’ function
There is an increasingly strong emphasis on mapping the unique properties of cells in life science research. This is extremely important because the unique characteristics of the building blocks of various organs and tissues provide important information for better understanding the background of malfunctions and the earliest possible detection of disease processes. Researchers at the ELKH Szeged Biological Research Centre and the University of Szeged have developed a unique new method for studying the physiological function of brain cells. With their proprietary, artificial intelligence-controlled, automated microscope system, they are able to find any cell within a living tissue sample, stimulate cells with predefined characteristics, and collect biological information by recording response processes. The developed new method may open up new perspectives in the early diagnosis and understanding of such worldwide spread diseases as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, thus supporting the development of effective therapies.
The Biological Image Processing and Machine Learning Working Group of the ELKH Szeged Biological Research Centre led by bioinformatician Dr Péter Horváth, and Dr Gábor Tamás, professor of neurobiology, head of the Cerebral Neural Networks Research Group at the University of Szeged, have been working together for several years on system microscopy solutions that have opened new avenues for the study of individual cells. Their latest development is the Autopatcher, an electrophysiological procedure using artificial intelligence, which was featured in the highly prestigious journal Nature Communications on February 10. The method is unique in several respects: cell tests are performed on native (unstained or otherwise unlabeled) brain tissue samples using machine vision and artificial intelligence. Using deep learning algorithms, the software, based on the analysis of thousands of images, is able to automatically determine the location of the micropipette integrated into the microscope based on the camera image and precisely move the pipette, automatically detecting target cells and their spatial displacement. Depending on the purpose of the test, the artificial intelligence-controlled system selects each target cell to ensure that the success of the measurement is as high as possible. The new technology will contribute, among others, to the discovery of new human cell types or a better understanding of the connections of brain neurons. Professor Gábor Tamás had previously discovered a new type of human brain cell in a similar way, and the new method just developed also anticipates further discoveries of great significance.
Machine vision and automation
Machine learning – i.e. artificial intelligence, or one of its varieties called deep learning – algorithms based on the images of the camera built into the microscope system control the micropipette. Machine vision provides much more precise targeting, measured in micrometers, than the human eye. After the machine-learning phase, the system is already able to detect specific cell types in an unknown brain tissue sample. A miniature electrode built into a pipette directed to the membrane of the selected cell is capable of individually stimulating the cells. By following the response to finely controlled stimulation, important information about physiological cell activity can be obtained without damaging the cell. In other cases, using the air pressure control system built into the pipette, it is possible to remove even the nucleus and the cytoplasm, and carry out molecular single-cell analysis on this basis, which can be an important source of genetic information, for example in combination with gene sequencing, explains Krisztián Koós, the first author of a paper published by the research group. The research and the development of the microscope system have great long-term potential: they can put drug trials on a new footing, for example, by allowing cell-level drug effects to be traced on a living tissue sample. By installing another micropipette, the system can make it possible to investigate the connections between neurons: to determine the characteristics of the cellular response to stimulation, and analyze the influence of stimulus propagation.
Unlabeled, precise cell analysis
Label-free examination of cells is another important innovation of the development project carried out in Szeged. Staining methods widely used to identify cell types (e.g. fluorescent staining) necessarily result in cell death in living tissues, so studies of cell function are precluded. Although there are other, less drastic cell labeling methods (e.g. genetically modified fluorescent cell labeling methods), their use is not feasible for many cell types. This means that native (unstained) cell testing overcomes a number of disadvantages that have so far hampered the testing of individual cells.
The system plans the path of the pipette to approach the target cell and avoids any obstructions. (Source: Nature Communications)
Knowledge and technology transfer between ELKH and Hungarian innovation actors can be more efficient with the cooperation of MISZ and ELKH
The Hungarian Association for Innovation (MISZ) and the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) Secretariat signed a cooperation agreement on January 27, 2021. The common goal of the cooperating parties is to promote the economic and social utilization of the scientific findings generated at the research sites belonging to the ELKH research network, and to strengthen the cooperation between ELKH and other stakeholders interested in innovation. In addition to expressing their intention to cooperate, the parties developed a joint work plan for 2021 that set out the planned activities for the first year of the partnership.
Gábor Szabó, Chairman of MISZ, said: “Several of the ELKH institutes are also direct members of MISZ and play a key role, for example, in the operation of our R&D Department. We want to raise our previous institutional cooperation to a higher level through the agreement signed with the ELKH Secretariat, and based on an elaborated work plan. We believe that the process from basic research to the market can be further enhanced. This type of activity is also recognized separately within the framework of the Hungarian Innovation Grand Prize competition announced by MISZ every year.˝
Miklós Maróth, President of ELKH said in connection with the signing of the agreement: “Due to its size and high-quality research staff, the Eötvös Loránd Research Network is a key player of the Hungarian knowledge-based innovation activity. ELKH considers it its mission to strengthen and develop the Hungarian research network based on the principles of excellence, as well as to promote the relations of the research sector with other stakeholders in the economy and society. As a recognized and responsible Hungarian representative of matters relating to innovation, MISZ can support ELKH effectively in these activities, including enhancing the economic and social impact of scientific research, development and innovation.”
The cooperation of the parties will focus on boosting knowledge and technology transfer processes between domestic innovation stakeholders. In addition to utilizing the scientific results generated at the ELKH research sites for the national economy, the common goal of the two organizations is to contribute to the supply of young researchers and talent management, to strengthen regional knowledge bases building on cooperation between universities and the research network, and to increase the innovation and income-generating capacity of the Hungarian industry, agriculture and the service sector.
Novel method developed at KOKI further improves efficiency and reliability of cognitive experiments on rodents
The Lendület Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience of the ELKH Institute of Experimental Medicine (KOKI), led by Balázs Hangya, has developed a novel device capable of fully automated training of laboratory rodents that help researchers study cognitive functions including learning, memory, attention, planning and decision making, with increased efficiency and reliability. This methodological innovation has recently been published in the Scientific Reports journal of the Springer Nature family.
It is increasingly clear to most policy makers that the prevention and treatment of neurological disorders carries huge potential benefits to the society. However, to realize these benefits, we need to understand the mechanisms of human thinking, for which it is inevitable to perform rodent experiments. In such experiments, experimental mice or rats are trained on learning, attentional and other cognitive tasks while constantly monitoring neuronal functions.
This task is time consuming, difficult to standardize, and direct contact with people is a significant stressor for the animals that may affect the efficiency and outcome of the experiments. This situation has been improved by Balázs Hangya and his group at the ELKH Institute of Experimental Medicine. The team has developed an automated training system in which mice can move from their home compartment to an adjacent “training chamber” where training takes place with automated software control. Mice learn the task much faster than during traditional “manual training”, while their stress hormone levels are the same as those of control mice. The new method can also save many working hours, as mice learn even when the experimenter is absent, for instance attending a conference, or be quarantined due to the epidemic. Since subconscious biases by the experimenter can be ruled out, the behavior of any two mice can readily be compared.
Compared to the few automated training systems available to date, the new device is freely programmable for a full range of cognitive rodent tests and can be combined with automated wireless optogenetics experiments. It is affordable and open source, that is, anyone can freely develop and customize it for their own experimental purposes. Thus, the new equipment significantly supports experiments in understanding cognitive functioning, including learning, memory, attention, planning and decision making.
Balázs Hangya and his research team have been working for many years to develop tools and methods to better understand the normal and abnormal functioning of the brain, which can bring us closer to a more effective treatment of serious diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. We have also reported on their recent study about the development of a new procedure that allows the localization of measurement devices implanted in the mouse brain with high accuracy by using CT and MRI measurements that was published in Nature Communications earlier this year.
Authors and source of the article:
Eszter Birtalan, Anita Bánhidi, Joshua I. Sanders, Diána Balázsfi, Balázs Hangya
Efficient training of mice on the 5‐choice serial reaction time task in an automated rodent training system