In 2020, the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) Secretariat initiated a total of five university partnership agreements, with Széchenyi István University (SZE), Szent István University (SZIE), the University of Szeged (SZTE), the University of Pécs (PTE) and Óbuda University (ÓE). As part of the five university partnerships, several research projects began on 1 December, with the ELKH Secretariat allocating a total of HUF 540 million in support funding for the period up to 30 November 2021.

The partnership between SZE and ÓE is led by the Institute for Computer Science & Control (SZTAKI), the SZTE partnership by the Szeged Biological Research Centre (BRC), the SZIE partnership by the Centre for Agricultural Research (ATK), and the University of Pécs’s Szentágothai Research Centre (SZKK) partnership by the Research Centre for Natural Sciences (TTK).

The key mission of the program is to build on the professional evaluation and experiences of the hitherto highly successful Excellence Cooperation Program (KEP) and provide more effective frameworks in terms of scientific and research organization for the researchers of the institutions to help them study the recommended fields. In addition, plans are in place to extend the program to the innovation ecosystem around Hungarian research universities in order to support the integration of research teams close to ELKH universities that are smaller but achieve significant results in certain areas.

The main goal of the pilot program is to increase the number of research projects that are important to the national economy, but at the same time fit well into the priority scientific topics of ELKH, where the utilization of findings is a priority. This has potential to increase competition and also increase the quality of RDI cooperation.

Within the framework of the ELKH – SZTAKI – SZE partnership, a project with a grant of HUF 150 million was launched entitled The application of information processing protocols implemented through computer network communication in the distributed management of mobile agents. The research program aims to increase the social acceptance of high-speed, low-latency communication technologies (5G and 6G) and to expand their technological application in industry. Road safety can be significantly improved by making vehicle management systems more reliable and by sharing and using traffic information intelligently. Supporting transport systems with the technologies researched in the project has further potential for optimization, as it also contributes to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and thus environmental impact, which is among the primary objectives in the European Union, by reducing the energy used for transport.

Within the framework of the ELKH–SZTAKI–ÓE partnership, a project entitled Development of cybermedical systems based on artificial intelligence and hybrid cloud methods was launched in cooperation with a grant of HUF 100 million. The pilot application development is taking place in five different fields of physiological and biological applications, all of which have significant exploitation potential in different areas of public health, the food industry and the national economy. The five key areas of the project are: decision support for diabetics, automation of edible fungal production, tremor detection, microhemodynamic imaging, and monitoring of orthodontic use. The results greatly strengthen the portfolio of the newly established Technology Center at Óbuda University. In addition, further possible co-operation is being discussed with Siemens’s Hungarian representative for the widespread use of the findings of the five research areas outlined in the project.

As part of the ELKH–SZBK–SZTE partnership, two projects were launched with a total grant of HUF 120 million, with a budget of HUF 60 million each. The first is The modulation of the operation of ultrafast natural and artificial photochemical reaction complexes with high-strength static and transient electric fields. The second is Phenotyping of neurons and investigation of their communication using artificial intelligence and an automated patch clamp system.

The basic research program on photochemistry aims to elucidate the role of very strong and rapidly changing local electric fields in photochemical systems and their associated dielectric relaxation processes, and to help understand the effect of dielectric environments on the photochemical activity of artificial and biohybrid molecular systems.

In the neuronal project, the researchers aimed to develop a methodology for exploring cell types in human in vivo cortical tissues and understanding the communication between them. To achieve this, a hardware and software system for neuroscience research is being developed that uses artificial intelligence to reconstruct brain cells in tissue and then provides an indication (prediction) of their appearance (phenotype). In addition to a more accurate understanding of the functioning of the human brain, the method thus created will make it possible to answer important medical questions, including optimal, personalized therapy for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

As part of the ELKH–SZBK–SZTE partnership, four research projects have been selected that will build on the areas of cooperation previously initiated between TTK and the Szentágothai Research Centre.

The first project is the NGS[1] splice reference project, which aims to set up splice reference databases used to evaluate next-generation sequencing (NGS) data, focusing on two fields. In the NGS fitting reference project, a novel data analysis will be performed in which both participating research teams (from TTK and PTE, respectively) will process all available data independently. The results of the research will also be directly linked to the standards developed by the European Union-funded ELIXIR CONVERGE project with a total of 22 countries, supported by EUR 5 million in funding.

The second project was launched under the title New analgesic, antidepressant, neuroprotective/retinoprotective and memory enhancing target molecules, drug candidates (neuropharmacology), and represents a very promising new direction for drug development. Uniquely wide-ranging methodological possibilities are available for all phases of translational neuropharmacological research, for which the strong clinical background of the participants and the modern instrument park of the Szentágothai Research Centre (SZKK) are essential. The project covers the full spectrum of drug target identification studies, as well as the competencies required for pharmacological, toxicological, pharmacokinetic, pharmaceutical technology, pharmaceutical chemistry, biotechnology, and translational clinical research. The partners also work closely with several SMEs and Richter Gedeon Plc. Linked to this project is a project called the National Laboratory for Translational Clinical Neuroscience, which will focus on neuropeptide mediators and their receptors and small molecule brain transmitters, as well as the National Laboratory for Drug Research and Development.

The third project is Bioimpedance-based tumor diagnosis, which aims to establish a reliable, early diagnosis of cancer. The new method developed could be promising in tumor screening as well as in monitoring the effectiveness of treatment. Within the framework of the interdisciplinary R&D&I project, the validation, characterization and optimization of tumors (mainly breast cancer, melanoma, possibly prostate carcinoma, osteosarcoma) in complex animal models are planned, with the possible involvement of industrial partners at a later stage. Related to this research is the project of The Center for Cyber ​​Medicine Competence (NKFIH, 2020−) of the University of Óbuda entitled Establishment of an innovation service base for the development of cyber medicine systems for diagnostic, therapeutic and research purposes, with the aim of establishing The Center for Cyber Medicine Competence of the University of Óbuda.

The fourth project will take place under the name Cellular and molecular biological characterization of adipose tissue in the context of obesity and aging. This is related to the major global health problem of obesity, which has significantly increased the importance of studying adipose tissue and its associated overall metabolism at the molecular biological level. Both major directions of adipose tissue differentiation (white and beige/brown adipocytes) will be investigated in different model systems, such as the study of thymus (thyroid) adiposity using gene-deficient mouse models. A further aim of the project is to map the processes underlying adipogenesis associated with aging and to find protein targets that may be able to delay aging.

Within the framework of the ELKH–ATK–SZIE partnership, the Precision breeding for safe food raw materials research program was launched with a grant of HUF 70 million, the aim of which is to apply various technologies based on genetic engineering. Three plants are being studied – potatoes, wheat, plums – in order to find a practical solution to the harmful effects of the three main pathogen groups – virus, bacteria and fungi. The successful implementation of the project may also lay the foundation for the establishment of a new National Laboratory. Continuing the research now underway could lay the foundations for a so-called translational agriculture in the longer term, which, following the example of translational medicine, will serve and accelerate the transfer of scientific results into production and innovation.

[1] Next Generation Sequencing – DNA