József Pálinkás, President of the NRDI Office pointed out: “The surgical use of the technology for the first time in Hungary provides further evidence that the competitive project funding system supporting discovery research, targeted development and innovative businesses is key for the gradual and sustainable improvement of innovation performance, the results of which, in the case of medical research, can be experienced directly by the patients.” He added: 11 national thematic programmes have been financed from the NRDI Fund since 2013, and five more have been opened this year.
The robot-assisted surgery was led by Loránd Erőss whose team has been dealing with the development and application of innovative neurosurgery and epilepsy surgery procedures for years in the framework of the National Brain Research Programme (NAP). With an initial budget of HUF 12 billion, the NAP stands out of national funding programmes both in terms of sources and the number of participating researchers. Since 2017, NAP has been running as part of the National Excellence Programme in which HUF 6.5 billion has been earmarked for brain research. Since 2014, more than 100 R&D projects have been launched at the 10 NAP consortium partners (universities, research institutions and businesses).
The purchase of the surgical robot, which is unique both in Hungary and in the region, was enabled by the HUF 1.2 billion funding provided to the winning consortium of the National Institute of Clinical Neurosciences and Femtonics Kft under the “National programme aimed at significantly enhancing the efficiency of curing diseases with extremely high mortality rates” sub-programme of the National Competitiveness and Excellence Programme of the NRDI Office. The aim of the multidisciplinary consortium comprising doctors, mechanical engineers, optical design engineers, electrical engineers, software engineers, biologists and laser physicists is to develop a two-photon microscope which is faster than traditional laser microscopes and enables spatial measurements, and fluorescent paint which makes the activity of nerve cells visible. Since activities relevant to research and therapy often take place inside the brain, the robot purchased from the funding plays an important role here: it can reach neural nuclei located deep in the brain much more accurately than humans, with a precision of a tenth of a millimetre.
The project was funded in the National Competitiveness and Excellence Programme (NKP_16) which is open to consortia of domestic higher education institutions, research institutions and businesses in the Central Hungary region. In addition to the above-mentioned programme, there are also two other national programmes which support research, development and innovation activities of strategic importance for Hungary’s competitiveness, including in particular the creation of marketable products, services or technologies with great added value: the Materials Science and Technology National Programme and the Water–Health–Food National Programme. In the three programmes, 26 consortium project proposals received altogether around HUF 28 billion in non-refundable funding from the NRDI Fund.