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

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-79290-2

Explore, Verify, Predict: Genetic Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 Variants Responsible for COVID-19 Cases in Hungary

Genetics research, aiming to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants responsible for pandemic COVID-19 cases, is a valuable tool to explore the geographical spread of the virus retrospectively, as well as to predict the presumable long-term effectiveness of vaccine candidates under development. A consortial research program involving four academical cities of Hungary (Szeged, Pécs, Debrecen, Budapest) represents a significant step forward, and will be integrated into the international collaboration of COVID research. The genome-wide analysis of SARS-CoV-2 identified from patient samples is a unique source of information, independent of other epidemiological data and studies. It is a specific method appropriate to trace back and characterize (model) the spring/summer wave of the pandemics, and reveals the specific virus variants currently spreading in the region of Hungary.

The Hungarian research project, focusing on the genetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) identified from clinical samples, is led by the ELKH Biological Research Centre (BRC). It is executed in co-operation with the Virology National Laboratory of Hungary (belonging to the University of Pécs) and participating national clinical laboratories for diagnostics. The most recent findings from the project support the theory that in Hungary the current (autumn) wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is independent of the first outbreak of the virus witnessed by the population of the country in spring. This means that the current epidemiological situation is not a consequence of a continuous evolution of transmission originating from latent spring cases. Instead, it results from a new introduction at midsummer. In addition, a comparative analysis of the identified virus variants verifies that the first rise of COVID-19 cases in spring remained localized in the affected regions of the country, supporting the effectiveness of protective safety measures in terms of preventing or at least slowing the spread of viral transmission. In contrast, genome sequencing (i.e. the precise genetic analysis of the genes defining SARS-CoV-2) of samples from the current (second) wave has revealed a country-wide chain of infection, supporting the role of significant internal transmission.

“Significantly, the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 is constantly changing, but this process is relatively slow compared to the same microbiological feature of other viruses (e.g. influenza)”, said Professor Dr. Ferenc Jakab, head of the Virology National Laboratory (VNL) of Hungary and Dr. Gábor Kemenesi, researcher at the VNL. However, the natural modifications (mutations) of the viral genome can play a significant role in the viability and contagiousness of the virus. The temporal and spatial maps of these patterns of gene mutations reveal important information on the lines of transmission.

“The evolutionary tree developed on the basis of the identified genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 indicates that in Hungary the first few cases of infection occurred at the end of February and in the first half of March, i.e. simultaneously with the COVID-19 outbreak in Western Europe. These data disprove the common belief that the virus may have appeared earlier in Hungary,” said the researchers Dr. Eszter Ari and Dr. Bálint Márk Vásárhelyi, who executed the bioinformatics analyses of the identified genome sequences.

As the research project has revealed, the SARS-CoV-2 variants responsible for the current chains of infection in Hungary are the same as those spreading in Europe. Specifically, the variants dominating the Hungarian lines of transmission are those that developed in other European countries during springtime. “Building on the prominent knowledge of our research groups in evolutionary biology and bioinformatics, we execute fast and real-time genomic analyses of clinical SARS-CoV-2 samples, aiming to characterize the domestic spread of the virus, as well as to immediately identify novel virus variants,” said the project leaders, Dr. Bálint Kintses and Dr. Balázs Papp, members of BRC and the Hungarian Centre of Excellence for Molecular Medicine (HCEMM). National data on SARS-CoV-2 variants appearing in countrywide clinical practice make an important contribution to international COVID monitoring. Ongoing improvement of our knowledge on the pandemic is essential to prepare for future challenges, including a vigilant detection of any novel variants. Monitoring SARS-CoV-2 variants is also a valuable tool to assess the presumable effectiveness of future vaccination programmes, as well as that of the available therapeutic options.

A detailed description of the research project, and the analysis and interpretation of genome sequencing data, including a summary of SARS-CoV-2 variants currently spreading in Hungary are available here (in Hungarian).

Brief statistics

The number of verified SARS-CoV-2-positive cases has been increasing exponentially since the first cases were diagnosed in December 2019. Globally, as of 8 December 2020, there have been 66,729,375 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,535,982 deaths, as reported by the WHO. To put it in perspective, seasonal influenza-associated respiratory disease is estimated to cause up to 650,000 deaths per year worldwide, while the most recent pandemic caused by influenza A (H1N1) virus, occurring in 2009, is estimated to have caused between 100 000 and 400 000 deaths globally in the first year. Currently, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is over 250,000 in Hungary, and over 6,000 Covid-related deaths have occurred so far (population: 9.77 million).

 

One of the key technologies for the first power plant-sized fusion reactor to be tested at the Centre for Energy Research

Hungarian researchers and companies will develop a machine protection system for the international fusion project ITER. The Shattered Pellet Injector is designed to quickly quench the fusion reaction before it can damage the inner walls. The project was made possible through a 2.4 million euro tender won by the Fusion Plasma Physics Department of the Centre for Energy Research, Eötvös Loránd Research Network together with several Hungarian companies.

The terrestrial realization of the energy production of stars has been the desire of mankind for half a century.  The ITER experiment currently under construction in France is a major step in this direction.  In this device, heated to a temperature of 100 million °C – ten times hotter than the temperature in the middle of the sun – charged hydrogen gas (plasma) fuses into helium, producing ten times more energy than is used to heat the reaction. Igniting a star on Earth will take the most complex device mankind has built to date. This international ITER project presents a tremendous challenge and opportunity for companies to develop their know-how.

Rendered Image of the Shatter Pellet Test Laboratory at Centre for Energy ResearchWhile starting up ITER will be a milestone, it is also critical to be able to shut down the experiment safely. The hot plasma is shot with hundreds of small ice particles, by firing a projectile made out of minus 260 °C hydrogen ice, also known as a pellet, against a plate with high velocity. This, like a shotgun, scatters the pellet into small pieces of ice, in terms of its function as a kind of powder extinguisher.

As a result of the research in the last decade, a prototype of the Scattered Pellet Injector can now be built in Budapest.  Researchers at the Centre for Energy Research will make a significant contribution to the future safe operation of ITER by testing the production, acceleration and fracture of pellets, the engineering design of the launcher and the development of the necessary experimental and monitoring methods.

Shattered Pellet Injector being tested on ITER’s predecessor, the European JET tokamak

The gas system of the Shattered Pellet Injector is provided by H-Ion Ltd., while the cryogenic design is built with the help of VTMT Ltd. This project builds on the Hungarian contribution to ITER started by Wigner RCP, C3D Ltd., GEMS Ltd. and Fusion Instruments Ltd., showing the high value of Hungarian researchers and high-tech companies to this exciting international project.

Press contact:

Tamás Szabolics, Centre for Energy Research

+36 30 388 6770

szabolics.tamas@ek-cer.hu

Three institutes in the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) to continue their activities as part of the network, but as independent research sites

The goal of the reorganization is to strengthen the specialist research profiles and objectives of these institutes

On the basis of the decision in principle made during the meeting on 24 November 2020 of the Governing Board of the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH), three institutes that currently belong to other ELKH research centers will separate from these research centers and carry out their activities in the future as independent ELKH research institutes. The decision was made on the basis of expert scientific reasoning – involving external experts and the relevant professional colleges of the ELKH Scientific Council – with the aim of reinforcing the specialist research profiles and objectives of the institutes. Becoming an independent institute is a longer process.

The decision affects the Institute of Veterinary Science (ÁOTI) of the Centre for Agricultural Research, the Institute of Geodesy and Geophysics (GGI) of the Research Centre for Astronomy, and the Balaton Institute of Limnology (BLI) of the Earth Sciences Centre for Ecological Research.

The three institutes carry out work in specialist research fields, and in many cases are the only ones to do so in Hungary. ÁOTI is the only Hungarian research site for veterinary science concerned with molecular, microbiological research. GGI provides the Hungarian base for Earth-based space exploration within the Solar System, while it also serves as the Hungarian center for seismological observations. BLI is responsible for conducting research into water at Lake Balaton and the surrounding area. The unique nature of their work has meant that these teams could not develop professional synergies and interdisciplinary collaborations with other members of the research center – one of the advantages of working alongside research centers – a factor which also supported the professional reasoning that these institutes should continue their operation on an independent basis. This decision ensures they will be guaranteed the kind of flexibility and speed in decision-making that is essential for more effective operation and allocation of tasks.

In light of the decision, Dr Miklós Maróth, President of ELKH, commented that “the ELKH leadership considers the development of the research network and the increase in its effectiveness and international competitiveness to be a high priority. In order to achieve this goal, in addition to providing increased financial resources, the provision of adequate professional support also plays an extremely important role. With this in mind, the Governing Board has now decided to optimize the organizational structure of three member institutes. Our expectations are that independent operation will benefit the professional development of the institutes and also facilitate the strengthening of their international position.”

Following the 2012 reorganization of the research network – which saw the merging of various institutions into research centers – this year, the ELKH Secretariat initiated a review and evaluation of the experiences of the last eight years. The collection and evaluation of these experiences took place with the involvement of external experts and professional members of staff from various specialist boards of the ELKH Scientific Council.

As a result of this work, in the case of these three research institutes, the idea was raised of a separation from the relevant research center and the opportunity for them to operate as independent research sites within the ELKH research network. Based on the relevant recommendations, the ELKH Governing Board made the decision to make these instites independent.

The primary duty of the ELKH Governing Board is to define – taking into account the recommendations of the research sites – the scientific strategy of the research network, provide professional and material support to achieve its strategic goals, and work to develop the research network. In the future, the distribution of funds will take place under a new model. The ELKH leadership expects this model to help ensure the financing of the research network is effective, more transparent and more reliable, promote excellence in the field of research and also, as a result, increase the international competitiveness of the research network.

Network method reveals long-term sequence learning in birdsong

The sequential organization of birdsong has been studied on collared flycatchers by the researchers of the Evolutionary Ecology Group (ELKH Centre for Ecological Research, Hungary) and the Behavioral Ecology Group (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary). The results were published in Behavioral Ecology. The results indicate that the syntax of birdsong is not fixed, but changes in the lifetime of the bird. Older males produce songs with longer repeated sequences of syllables, probably thanks to long-term learning processes. The study of the ontogeny and evolution of animal communication can help us to better understand the adaptation of animals to the changing environment and the mechanism of sexual selection. Sándor Zsebők, the primary author of the publication, summarized their research.

Singing collared flycatcher male.

Not only humans, but also animals communicate with acoustic signals containing sequences of discrete elements where the order of the elements is not random. However, contrary to human language, we know little about the variety and function of sequential organization in animal signals. To understand this phenomenon, one must reveal the changes of the sequential patterns within individuals through their lives and the differences among individuals. Furthermore, it is also necessary to reveal the function of sequences in terms of the relationship between the sequential organization and the quality and pairing success of individuals.

Birdsong is an ideal model for studying animal communication as it is easy to record and process, and we have a great deal of knowledge about it. Birds signal their territory and advertise themselves in courtship season. Their song can contain such information about the signaler as its physical condition, health and experience, which are all important in territorial conflicts and choosing a mate.

Sonogram of the collared flycatcher song. The different syllable types are indicated by different letters. The researchers studied the order of different syllable types with network methods.

One of the well-known model species used in this study is the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). In this European passerine bird species, the males sing and defend their territory and attract the females with their song in the courtship season. The researchers recorded the same birds repeatedly on the same a day, on different days and in different years. The order of song elements (known as syllables) was characterized by modern network analysis methods, and the variety of sequences was quantified by the network variables. The authors also quantified the relationship between the network measures and such male qualities as condition, age and arrival to the breeding area, pairing success and survival. Data from about 200 individuals were analyzed.

It was found that the order of syllables was not random. Instead, longer sequences were repeated in the songs. The birds produced syllables in a way that the frequency differences of the consecutive syllables were higher than could have been expected in a random case. This indicates that the males try to show off to advertise their capabilities, as producing sequences in this way is more difficult and requires more effort than singing in the same pitch. The researchers also showed that the differences in the usage of syllable sequences were higher between individuals than within individuals, which further supports the idea that males may express their individual qualities in the ordering of the syllables. It was also shown that older males sing with longer repeated sequences and more unique syllables within their songs than younger individuals. The authors have posited that there are long-term learning processes behind this intriguing phenomenon.

The figures show the network of syllable types. The nodes (circles) represent the syllable types, where the colors indicate the number of connections with other syllable types. The connections (arrows) show which syllable types follow each other in the songs.

Although the researchers could not obtain direct proof of the relationship between the ordering of syllables and the choice of mate, it may be advantageous to listen the ordering in both territorial and mate choice contexts. Older males may have more experience not only in singing but also in territorial fighting, and may also be more experienced in finding good quality nest holes and avoiding predators, something that can also be important when selecting a mate.

These results can support such research directions that aim to reveal the determinants of the evolution of complex communication, including human language. Also, in general, using the birdsong as a model of complex learnt behavior, the research can help us to understand how animals can adapt to the changing environment, something which is essential for predicting anthropogenic effects on wildlife.

Cite:

Sándor Zsebők, Gábor Herczeg, Miklós Laczi, Gergely Nagy, Éva Vaskuti, Rita Hargitai, Gergely Hegyi, Márton Herényi, Gábor Markó, Balázs Rosivall, Eszter Szász, Eszter Szöllősi, János Török, László Zsolt Garamszegi, Sequential organization of birdsong: relationships with individual quality and fitness, Behavioral Ecology, araa104

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/araa104

 

 

SZTNH and ELKH partnership to render utilization of research findings more effective

On October 29, 2020, the management of the National Intellectual Property Office (SZTNH) and the ELKH Secretariat signed a framework cooperation agreement. The aim of the partnership is to support the social and economic utilization of the research results achieved at the ELKH network, with the appropriate protection of intellectual property being a major contributor to this effort.

“Aligning research and industrial property protection will contribute to the long-term success of the research network. As part of this collaboration, researchers will receive assistance for securing their innovations with various types of protection forms, such as patents, utility model protection, and trademarks. By applying industrial property protection, not only the scientific results, but also the economic and social usefulness of the developed solutions are visible. This approach is not only exemplary, but it must be applied in Hungarian research,” said Gyula Pomázi, President of SZNTH, at the press conference. He added that “during its nearly 125 years of existence, SZTNH has always supported domestic development projects and innovations. Their task remains the same today, though it has also been expanded to include research and development certification, something which is becoming increasingly popular among SMEs.”

 

The common goal of the cooperating parties is to promote the protection and utilization of intellectual works created at the ELKH research sites, and to increase the intellectual property protection awareness of researchers. To this end – in addition to expressing their intention to cooperate – the parties also set out their first annual work plan for the partnership.

 

“As a network of the country’s most important knowledge-producing research sites, ELKH has a prominent role in Hungarian scientific life, and its performance significantly influences Hungary’s position in international innovation rankings. In addition to the production of high-quality research findings, the key to its effectiveness is the social and economic utilization of these findings. The cooperation with the National Office of Intellectual Property will play a major role in the successful implementation of this process,” emphasized Miklós Maróth, President of the Eötvös Lóránd Research Network. He added that “the partnership is mutually beneficial for the parties. Increasing the research community’s industrial property protection and copyright awareness and tools – in addition to the renewed innovation processes – will promote our mutual interests in the effective social and economic exploitation of emerging intellectual property.”

 

The common goal of the two organizations is to increase the intellectual property protection awareness of ELKH researchers and to support the protection and utilization of their intellectual work. Within the framework of the cooperation, SZTNH experts will in future take on the role of speakers at ELKH intellectual property protection and awareness-raising events. In addition to the planned joint training, SZTNH will also support the renewal of ELKH’s intellectual property management practice and the development of a network-level research utilization strategy.

 

More information:

 

Hungarian National Intellectual Property Office: https://www.sztnh.gov.hu/hu

Media relations: Georgina Gyulasi, georgina.gyulasi[at]hipo.gov.hu, +36 30 298 4646

Eötvös Loránd Research Network: https://elkh.org/

Media relations: Éva Hencz, hencz.eva[at]elkh.org, +36 30 155 1803

Four of the 17 National Laboratories and one Research Laboratory led by an ELKH research site

Four National Laboratories and one Research Laboratory that are expected to largely contribute to Hungary’s economic development and increasing of its international competitiveness are being established under the leadership of one research center and two research institutes belonging to the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH). 

The government supports the establishment and operation of 17 National Laboratories and a Research Laboratory in the five-year period from 2020 and 2025, with HUF 14 billion funding this year and a total of around HUF 90 billion in the coming years.

Four key research and development areas have been identified in the National Laboratories Program –  secure society and environment, health, industry and digitalization, and culture and family – where, building on our domestic strengths, project participants can provide answers to global challenges while making a significant contribution to the economic development of the country and increasing its international competitiveness. Several institutions belonging to the ELKH research network actively participated in the development of the program.

The main objective of the program is to bring together research institutes, universities and industry players in a given research topic, and to provide access to future-oriented technologies that can be used to implement world-class research and innovation programs by Hungarian research sites. In addition, the mission of the program is to develop the competencies that are essential for this, and to utilize the research results as widely as possible.

The ELKH research network is a key participant in the implementation of the National Laboratories Program. In the field of industry and digitalization, two projects led by ELKH’s Institute for Computer Science & Control (SZTAKI) were announced – the National Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence and the National Laboratory of Autonomous Systems – as well as the National Laboratory for Quantum Informatics led by the Wigner Research Centre for Physics (Wigner FK). The Institute of Experimental Medicine (KOKI), the Centre for Social Sciences (TK) and the Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics (Rényi) are also consortium partners in the National Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence.

The National Laboratory of Biotechnology, implemented under the leadership of the Szeged Biological Research Centre (BRC) within the topic of health, and the Nanoplasmonic Laser Fusion Research Laboratory led by Wigner FK within the topic of safe society and environment will start operation in 2020.

In addition, the Multidisciplinary National Laboratory for Climate Change established under the topic of safe society and environment will be implemented with the participation of the Balaton Limnology Institute of the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research, with the leadership of Pannon University.


Brief presentation of the projects led by and with the participation of the ELKH research sites:

1. National Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence
– under the leadership of the ELKH Institute for Computer Science & Control

The aim of the National Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence (MILAB) is to promote Hungary’s role in the field of artificial intelligence. Key topics address industry research, including research into medical diagnostic and biometric applications, the agriculture and food industry, transport, manufacturing and processing industry, telecommunications, as well as the mathematical foundations of deep learning using artificial intelligence. In addition, the program covers the development of machine vision, natural language processing, and research into data processing technologies that ensure the protection of personal data. 

2. National Laboratory of Autonomous Systems
– under the leadership of the ELKH Institute for Computer Science & Control

The National Laboratory of Autonomous Systems aims to provide an efficient and innovative solution to mobility-related research tasks, focusing on road vehicles, aircraft and mobile robots. Its activities focus on research related to mobility, developments demonstrating functional and cooperative operation, the implementation of knowledge transfer, public tender and industrial projects, and education. The research results and know-how generated in connection with the project will not only help increase the added value of the domestic automotive industry, but also boost the social acceptance of autonomous vehicles by communicating the results.

In line with the European Union’s research and innovation objectives, the Laboratory defines its mission, vision and research and development tasks in accordance with the principles of open innovation, open science and knowledge transfer, and “opening up to the world”, i.e. the realization of international cooperation.

3. National Laboratory of Quantum Informatics
– under the leadership of the ELKH Wigner Research Centre for Physics

One of the strategic goals of the National Laboratory of Quantum Informatics is to create a regional quantum communication network that can be connected to the quantum Internet planned in the European Union. Its aim is to develop hardware components based on photons, atoms and artificial atoms for quantum IT operations, to maintain the necessary laboratory infrastructure at cutting-edge international level, as well as to develop domestic expertise with state-of-the-art knowledge able to operate quantum computers as users in a large infrastructure.

 4. Nanoplasmonic Laser Fusion Research Laboratory
– under the leadership of the ELKH Wigner Research Centre for Physics

The main goal of the Nanoplasmonic Laser Fusion Research Laboratory is to increase the efficiency of laser ignition fusion through the plasmon effect. Ensuring efficient and sustainable energy production is one of humanity’s greatest problems today. One of the most promising solutions to this problem is the implementation of fusion energy generation. The Nanoplasmonic Laser Fusion Research Laboratory is investigating the effects of plasmons (collective electron excitations) induced by ultrashort laser pulses in a pioneering way that has led to the development of inertial fusion techniques. Inertial fusion is a method of controlled nuclear fusion in which the fusion material is compressed with high energy, in this case, laser beams, thus creating the conditions for fusion. Based on the results gained so far, this method can make nuclear fusion ignition more efficient and economical, thus promising a new, innovative solution. 

5. National Laboratory of Biotechnology
– under the leadership of the ELKH Szeged Biological Research Centre

The goal of the National Biotechnology Laboratory is to develop unique, competitive technologies and therapeutic procedures in Hungary using the most modern biotechnology tools, focusing on drug-resistant bacteria, developing new types of vaccines, and identifying drug molecules suitable for the treatment of newly diagnosed rare diseases. The laboratory focuses on the study of global problems associated with pandemics caused by infectious diseases, especially in research areas related to antibiotic resistance, COVID-19 infection, and swine fever.

6. Multidisciplinary National Laboratory for Climate Change
– under the leadership of Pannon University, consortium partner: ELKH Centre for Ecological Research

Within the framework of this project, the researchers of the Balaton Limnology Institute are studying the effects of climate change on Lake Balaton, focusing their research in three areas in particular. On one hand, they are studying biodiversity, including the responses of invertebrates and vertebrates and macro-vegetation to climate change. Secondly, they are separately studying algae, microorganisms, and the chemical constituents of the lake. Thirdly, they are carrying out in vitro and in silico experiments in their mesocosm system, using computer models to better understand the processes. The main goal is to use a well-designed and smart integration of research to gain a better understanding of what is happening in the lake and how sensitive it is to climate change.

 

Researchers at BRC have developed qualitatively new antibiotic molecules that have been shown to be effective against superbacteria

Frequent and inappropriate use of antibiotics poses a serious health risk. Multidrug-resistant bacteria, often referred to simply as “superbacteria” in the media, are resistant to several antibiotics, have become widespread and are responsible for many deaths worldwide. Hospitals and health care facilities are the focal points for the development of bacterial infections, where antibiotics are widely used and pathogens can spread easily among patients. In the current situation, there is an urgent need to develop new, effective antibiotics; therefore, the research group of the Synthetic and Systems Biology Unit within the Institute of Biophysics of the ELKH Szeged Biological Research Center (BRC) started to develop antibiotic molecules that may be effective against superbacteria.

Szuperbaktériumok kémcsőben

According to a survey conducted by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, multidrug-resistant pathogens caused pneumonia and bloodstream or urinary tract infections in 8.3% of patients admitted to intensive care units in 2017 in Europe. In addition to the additional costs of prolonged treatment, these infections very often result in the deaths of patients – according to WHO data from 2019, this accounts for 700,000 mortalities a year. It is estimated that this number could increase in the future to such an extent that resistant infections could claim more deaths than cancer by 2050. Obvoiusly, the problem of resistance also affects Hungary. The most common infections in Hungarian hospitals are caused by Acinetobacter baumannii, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and MRSA, which is a well-known example of resistant superbacteria.

New antibiotics are needed

In the current severe crisis, in addition to a change of approach globally, there is an urgent need to develop new, effective antibiotics, but this process has slowed down considerably in recent years. Since bacteria can become resistant extremely quickly, new antibiotics prove ineffective shortly after they are placed on the market, or often even during the testing process. Because the huge amount of time and money invested in the development process does not pay off, pharmaceutical companies are becoming less and less interested in antibiotic development, and some companies, e.g. Novartis and Sanofi, have completely halted research in this area. If we were more careful at the very beginning of the development process, we would be more likely to find agents that would remain effective for a longer period of time. This requires a novel and rational approach to designing molecules. By modifying their design and structure, specific molecules can be created against which bacteria find it more difficult to develop resistance.

Laboratóriumi robotok segítik a kutatók munkáját

One dangerous pathogen: MRSA

The goal of Csaba Pál’s research group is to develop antibiotic molecules that are effective against MRSA infection caused by the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, or MRSA for short. MRSA is one of the most dangerous pathogens in Europe, including Hungary. There are countries where it causes more infections and often fatal conditions than any other infectious disease combined. Some estimates put the associated global health care costs at USD 5 billion a year. Antibiotics currently on the market and under development do not offer a satisfactory solution because MRSA adapts extremely quickly to new antibiotics.

In close professional collaboration with the University of Ljubljana, the research team designed two qualitatively new antibiotic candidates, called ULD1 and ULD2. The special property of these molecules is that they have several targets within the bacterial cell, so the development of resistance is minimal. Preliminary experiments in mice show that ULD1 and ULD2 are particularly effective against MRSA skin infections, and at the same time, they have no detrimental effect on human cells. Csaba Pál et al. demonstrated that antibiotics on the market or under development are ineffective against many genetic variants of MRSA. In sharp contrast, ULD1 and ULD2 effectively eradicated all MRDA variants tested under laboratory conditions. Therefore, the international patenting process for this family of molecules is already in progress.

With the support of the National Biotechnology Laboratory, which will be launched in the near future, it has become possible to develop new, even more effective antibiotic candidates and to further test promising molecules. The ultimate goal is to make the molecules marketable to internationally significant drug development companies. The research appeared of the pages of the prestigious Plos Biology publication:

https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000819

Csaba Pál

He received his doctoral degree at Eötvös Loránd University in 2002 and then spent several years abroad on a scholarship, studying in Oxford and Heidelberg. Since 2008, he has been a researcher at the Szeged Biological Research Centre of the Eötvös Loránd Research Network, a senior researcher at the Institute of Biochemistry, and one of the heads of the Synthetic and Systems Biology Unit. He specializes in antibiotic resistance and genome engineering. In the course of his career, he was awarded the European Research Council’s Starting (2008-2013), Consolidator (2015-2020) and Proof of Concept (2019–) grants, earning his research team EUR 3.5 million in direct funding. He has published more than 50 scientific papers in prestigious journals such as Nature, Nature Microbiology, Nature Genetics, Science and PNAS. His research work has been recognized by several prizes. In 2009, he won the Ignaz L. Lieben Prize of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, he was awarded the Szent-Györgyi Talent Prize in 2014, and the János Bolyai Creative Prize in 2015. He has been a member of Academia Europaea since 2016, the European Organization for Molecular Biology (EMBO) since 2017, and the Federation of European Microbiological Societies since 2018. He is also a member of the editorial boards of Molecular Biology and Evolution, Plos Biology and Biology Direct.

Fiatal tehetségek Pál Csaba laborban 2018-ban

 

Further details: http://group.szbk.u-szeged.hu/sysbiol/

Close to 5,000 employees at the state funded research sites of the ELKH research network to receive an average pay rise of 30% from November

The Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) Secretariat has started the distribution of the additional funds provided by the government covering general operational costs and the salary increase at research sites belonging to the network. Researchers and employees working in other functions will start receiving their increased salary in November, effective from 1 July 2020. The decision regarding the pay rise of individual staff members is delegated to the institution heads and impacts close to 5,000 researchers and other staff, with an average increase of 30 percent. The ELKH Secretariat will also distribute an additional HUF 5.5 billion to cover this year’s operational costs. The institutes are free to decide how the funds are used.

The ELKH Governing Board decided on the allocation of the HUF 11 billion additional government funds provided to the research network for 2020. As a result, research sites belonging to the network now receive funding for salary increases, operational and maintenance costs, and research infrastructure development. The ELKH Secretariat initiated the distribution of the funds last week.

A significant part of the additional funding, HUF 3.6 billion, can be spent on 30 percent average salary increase of researchers and support staff, effective from 1 July 2020. Young researchers employed in the tender system will receive an incremental 20 percent increase. The ELKH Secretariat will provide HUF 5.5 billion in additional funding to cover the network’s 2020 operational expenses. The institutions can use these funds in accordance with their own needs, under the authority of the heads of the institutions.

A decision was also made to allocate HUF 875.3 million in additional funding for infrastructure development purposes in support of the tenders submitted by the institutions earlier this year. This adds up to a total of over HUF 1.7 billion targeted at research infrastructure development in the ELKH network in 2020. The remaining amount will be used by the ELKH Secretariat to finance central tasks and to create a reserve for unforeseen tasks.

The first steps taken to ensure the professional and financial conditions necessary for the long-term successful operation and development of the ELKH research network include the settlement of researchers’ salaries and the improvement of research infrastructure and research opportunities. All of this can help us recruit and retain talented researchers, and will have a positive impact on performance and results in the long term,” said Dr. Miklós Maróth, Chairman of the ELKH Governing Board, who emphasized that “The autonomy of the institutions is strengthened by the fact that the decision related to the details of the pay rise and the use of additional government funding covering this year’s operational costs is delegated to the institutions, with the ELKH Presidency and Governing Board only providing the necessary framework and conditions.”

With the annual incremental HUF 22 billion from 2021, the funding available for financing the research network will more than double. A significant share of this amount – approximately HUF 9 billion – will go towards salary increases. The reminder of the funds can be used to support the operations of the network, including research projects, excellence programs and the full operational costs of the buildings. The new funding structure replaces the static rate-based allocation applied by the previous support organization over the past 25 years that was unrelated to either the headcount of the institutions, their performance or how much funding was needed by an institution to operate in a given year. The new model is expected to make the funding of the research network more transparent, efficient and predictable, and will support excellence in research, thus increasing the competitiveness of the network.