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Eastern Europe in Danger of Losing Entire Generation of Scientists

Summary

The following remarks were made by Hungarian researcher László Hunyady of Semmelweiss University of Medicine in Budapest. He was addressing diplomats and journalists at a luncheon announcing the Hughes grants that was held in July at HHMI's headquarters outside of Washington, D.C.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

It is my pleasure to express the gratitude and appreciation on behalf of those who will receive this award. I would like to present to you my personal views why we, the scientists, feel that this award has an extraordinary importance to us, and then I would like to say a few words about more general ideas on U.S.- East European relationships from our point of view.

Let me start with my personal story first. I started my research career in Hungary where I received my basic training in Andras Spät's laboratory. Between 1987 and 1989, I spent two years at NIH in Kevin Catt's laboratory as a Visiting Fellow. I moved back to Hungary, but three years later, in 1992, I came back again to the same laboratory as an exchange scientist.

East European research institutes and universities are losing a most active and productive generation of researchers.

László Hunyady

It is very important that we East Europeans have this opportunity to do research and receive training here. But as much as I enjoyed learning new techniques, I had to realize that it will be extremely difficult to continue the project I started here. My home country, Hungary, today simply cannot afford to provide research opportunities for most of us, even if we have proven to be successful abroad.

All East European researchers face this dilemma. It is unfortunate that many of the best researchers decide to leave our countries and continue their career abroad, because western laboratories have much more to offer professionally and financially. Unfortunately, the consequence of this situation is that East European research institutes and universities are losing a most active and productive generation of researchers.

The grants awarded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute offer an opportunity for my generation to try to establish or continue quality research at home. This is an opportunity to do research based on our ideas and skills, rather than fitting into already existing structures, and to do research based on the [scientific] possibilities and [not on] limited existing resources. We highly appreciate this opportunity, and the enormous response to the call for applications reflects its importance to numerous investigators. Many people could raise the question: O.K., this is important for them, but why should we, here in the U.S., care about their needs at home? If these people are so good, we should keep them here, or even attract them here.

Well, first of all, many researchers will stay anyway, because the United States is a great place to do research. No grant can match the opportunities offered by this country. However, it is also important that at least some of us should go back. Not because they run out of options, not because they are giving up their ambitions, but because they see an opportunity there to do quality work. This has to be an important part of the U.S.- Eastern European relations.

People in the Eastern European countries look up to the West, and there was an enormous enthusiasm in many of these countries about establishing western style democracy. However, in the current transition period they experience great difficulties. They expected prosperity, but most of them are experiencing serious hardships. Many people just do not see the end of the tunnel and are losing their faith. It is extremely important to help these countries to pass this transition period. Most, if not all, the scientists awarded these grants have spent a considerable time in western countries. These people have seen democracy where it is working. They understand western principles, and they know where we are going. They know that hard work will eventually bring prosperity. History has proven that prosperity is the best way to convince people about the value of the western principles.

The Marshall Plan after the Second World War not only created prosperity in Western Europe, but also forged a strong alliance for the United States that included countries that were not always considered as friends of the U.S. The United States has a strategic interest to extend this alliance, and we are experiencing a historic opportunity to do so. Today, all of East Europe has the desire to experiment with the western system, but these countries need help! If they can get it in time, and they can see that in fact they are moving toward prosperity, they will work harder, they will become independent, and they will become part of a broader alliance that shares principles that bring peace and stability for all of us, which is definitely in the strategic interest of the United States.

I feel that it is very important that HHMI is offering its own little Marshall Plan for East European science. It is extremely important to prevent irreversible damage to the structures of science in East Europe caused by losing much of the talent of a whole generation. Western governments are trying to help, but this is a difficult time for many of them and their resources are limited. Since East European private sources are virtually nonexistent, the help of private organizations is extremely important and highly appreciated. This help is vitally important to us. The Institute praised the quality of the applications. But, as much as I am proud that so many East European researchers were able to propose such high quality research plans, it is sad that so many who would also deserve such support could not be funded at this time. I hope that other organizations and governments will follow the lead of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and governments will come forward with similar proposals to provide support for those who would also deserve it.

I feel honored and fortunate to be selected as a recipient of this grant award, but I know that I am facing a very difficult challenge. I have to establish research that will be able to compete with western laboratories that have much more resources, despite the help I am receiving. It is up to us to provide results that will prove that the investment of the Institute was well spentand will make the Institute consider offering similar programs in the future. But I am very happy that I have the opportunity to face this challenge, and I strongly believe that as much as Howard Hughes [has] made a difference in U.S. biomedical research, they will also do the same thing in Eastern Europe.

For More Information

Jim Keeley
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