Dr. Erhard Busek´s death on March 13, 2022 provides an occasion to remind the members of the Center for Brain Research and the general public about his decisive role as the Minister for Science and Research in the foundation of our institute. In the 1980ths brain research in Vienna was organized in multiple small institutes and research groups, scattered all over the 9th district, and it was, thus, for many years proposed by a group of Austrian neuroscientists, leaded by Jörg Hoyer and Sigismund Huck, to create a joint Brain Research Institute. However, this idea was not realized, mainly for cost reasons. The vacancy of the former building of the Institute of Pathology opened a new window of opportunity for this initiative.
When this idea was proposed to Dr. Erhard Busek, who served as Minister of Science and Research at this time, he agreed that this was a promising idea, but he also stated that he will only pursue it, when we were able to come up with a completely new structural and functional concept for such a research unit within an Austrian University. Accepting this challenge, we came up with a number of ideas, which at that time were quite unusual for a research institution, situated within the structure of a university. We first suggested that all previously existing institutes and research groups should be dissolved, and that the research teams, who wanted to join the new initiative, should be selected on the basis of an international evaluation. The new institute should be structured in a way, comparable to Institutes of the Max Planck Society in Germany. Research groups should be integrated in departments of the institute according to their complementarity in research topics and technologies and new departments should be created to cover unmet needs for joint research efforts. In addition, expensive equipment should be accessible and shared by all scientists of the Institute and also be made available for researchers working in other institutions of the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna. To grant the success of this initiative, all steps of the procedure should be monitored by an International Advisory Board, jointly implemented by the Medical Faculty and the government.
When we presented these suggestions to Dr. Busek, his reaction was enthusiastic. He decided that we should go ahead to test the feasibility of the concept and he also felt that, when successful, it could be copied by other institutions in Austria. His decision paved the way for the reconstruction of our building at Spitalgasse 4, the appointment of an excellent international Board, headed by Prof. Robert Schwarcz from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and finally the implementation of the institute as one of the most prominent and productive research units of our university. It was a major satisfaction to see that in the following years our Center developed into a role model for the reorganization of the other pre-clinical centers of the Medical University of Vienna.
During the implementation of our institute and also during my years serving in the senate of our university I had several occasions to directly interact with Dr. Busek. Whatever topic was on the agenda, I was always impressed by his deep and profound knowledge, his powers of comprehension and his enthusiasm for new ideas and insights.
Vienna, March 2022, Prof. Dr. Hans Lassmann