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Fields of pharmaceutical research, molecular biology, microbiology, neurobiology, psychology

The good health and well-being of citizens are among the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN, which have been accepted and agreed to by all member states. Referring to the European Commission’s resolution, the OECD emphasizes that these goals can only be achieved through comprehensive innovation, including significant R&D activity. Thus, health has become one of the central subject areas of Hungarian RDI, scientific education, consultancy and the popularization of science in line with global goals, as well as domestic needs and priorities.

The mortality and morbidity of certain diseases in the Hungarian population are highly unfavorable. These disease types, e.g. diseases of the central nervous system, cardiovascular and tumorous diseases, are among the priority research topics of the relevant HUN-REN research centres and institutes.

The HUN-REN research sites – especially the HUN-REN Institute of Experimental Medicine (HUN-REN IEM), the HUN-REN Biological Research Centre, Szeged (HUN-REN BRC Szeged), the HUN-REN Research Centre for Natural Sciences (HUN-REN RCNS), the HUN-REN Centre for Ecological Research (HUN-REN CER), the HUN-REN Veterinary Medical Research Institute (HUN-REN VMRI) and partially institutes of the HUN-REN Centre for Agricultural Research (HUN-REN CAR) and the HUN-REN Centre for Economic and Regional Studies (HUN-REN CERS) – regard health-related research as their top priority. Therefore, most of their activities focus on research into diseases that constitute a challenge from the perspective of public health, competitiveness and national strategy.

Diseases of the central nervous system place a significant burden on the individual, the public health service and society. Research at HUN-REN IEM focuses on neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases: memory, sleep and rhythmical brain activities, fear reactions, anxiety, the frontal lobe, which is responsible for the highest level functions of the nervous system (decision-making, planning and self-awareness), the thalamus, schizophrenia, epilepsy and chronic pain.

In the field of pharmaceutical research and innovation, HUN-REN IEM’s overall aim is to understand information processing both at the cellular and network level and both in the healthy and the pathological brain, and to find new targets for medicines and novel diagnostic methods based on these findings. In collaboration with HUN-REN RCNS, HUN-REN IEM aims to develop active agents against Parkinson’s disease with a new target. The strategic aim of the researchers at HUN-REN BRC Szeged is to develop competitive biological drug development technologies and therapeutic methods that are unique to Hungary.

The accuracy and safety of surgical interventions can be increased by “smart” surgical robots, catheters and laparoscopes applying 3D force sensors developed by the Microsystems Laboratory at the Institute of Technical Physics and Materials Science of the HUN-REN Centre for Energy Research (HUN-REN EK-CER). Specific Si and polymer based sensors and microfluidic systems have been developed by the researchers of the Centre dedicated for medical purposes. The application of micromachining technology (MEMS systems) enables the miniaturization of analytical systems and the integration of various functions, while Lab-on-a-Chip systems are essential building blocks of Point-of-Care diagnostic devices. Organ-on-Chip systems can provide a promising solution to accelerate drug research and testing.

It is a strategic aim of HUN-REN BRC Szeged to enhance the chances of healthy aging. The focus of biological research on aging has moved from prolonging lifespan to extending the health span. The projects of HUN-REN BRC Szeged aim to identify the molecular switches responsible for healthy/pathological aging with expressome and secrotome in focus; and also to find aging-related biomarkers and potential therapeutic targets.

One of the leading causes of mortality in the developed world, including Europe, is cancer. Numerous research groups within HUN-REN RCNS are participating, in cooperation with other institutes, in designing methods that take the individual characteristics of tumors into consideration, and in putting these methods in therapeutic application. New protein targets can be identified by characterizing tumors at the molecular level. If these are inhibited, the tumorous cells of certain patients can be killed selectively and effectively, which may be a breakthrough in the treatment of cancer. The main objective of researchers is to elaborate a uniform diagnostic method for tumors that is easy to use.

The reasons for resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs are being investigated at HUN-REN BRC Szeged, as is the identification of drug molecules that act against resistance. The strategic aim of researchers at HUN-REN BRC Szeged in cooperation with groups from HUN-REN RCNS is to explore the reasons for resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs and to identify drug molecules that are capable of blocking this resistance.

The fast development of medical biology research enables the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic processes for numerous diseases that are regarded as severe risks to public health. A prerequisite for these developments is to elaborate relevant disease models, to explore the pathological mechanisms at the molecular, cellular and organism level, to identify the genetic and epigenetic factors influencing the therapy, and to transfer these results to pharmaceutical development and clinical application. One of the primary aims of HUN-REN RCNS’s researchers is to develop diagnostic biomarkers and to identify new biomarkers, in addition to creating novel therapeutic solutions designed for new targets and drug treatments based on pharmacogenetic grounds.

Additionally, HUN-REN RCNS’s researchers aim to develop, synthesize and apply bioactive molecules, pharmacological probes, drug candidates, fluorescent signaling molecules and molecular switches. They put special emphasis on the latest development trends in the pharmaceutical chemistry, such as the targeted degradation of abnormal proteins, irreversible chemical modification and inhibition of protein-protein interactions.

Due to the unprecedented development of clinical genetics, the genetic background of several thousand human diseases has been identified by researchers, but only a small number of such diseases can be cured by therapeutic processes. A strategic aim of HUN-REN BRC Szeged is to create and operate the first drug repositioning research site in Hungary. Researchers are focused on new therapeutic solutions by developing disease models for the cellular level and the whole organism level (Drosophila – fruit fly), and by creating and using highly permeable filtering techniques suitable for filtering molecule inventories.

One of the greatest environmental challenges of our time is the emergence of new contagious diseases, as climate change (see below), urbanization and globalization all facilitate the survival of pathogens and the spread of vector species responsible for spreading them. At present, two research groups are working within HUN-REN CER to monitor mosquitoes, ticks and the pathogens spread by them. They are also paying special attention to urban epidemic hotspots and to the investigation of invasive species appearing in the Hungarian fauna due to climate change, and the diseases brought into the country by them. These research activities rely on the systematic application of the DAMA (Document, Assess, Monitor, Act) Protocol.

In the past ten years, 75% of new diseases affecting humans have been caused by pathogens from animals or products prepared from animals. Therefore, a crucial aim of HUN-REN VMRI is to explore the properties of pathogens causing zoonotic diseases, and to further develop methods for their diagnosis and protection against them. Another research focus is the problem of antimicrobial resistance, as it has been proven at several levels that bacterial resistance can spread from animals to humans.

Newly emerging diseases represent national security and existential risks for all countries, especially for urban inhabitants in technologically developed countries. Climate change and global trade facilitate the emergence of numerous pathogens at new places and in new host organisms, thus boosting epidemics in humans, farmed animals and crops. Consequently, the research conducted in HUN-REN VMRI and HUN-REN CER focuses on contagious animal diseases that threaten our animal stock at the national level, and the effect of urban epidemic hotspots and new species and the diseases spread by them, all of which are occurring due to climate change.