University of Debrecen (UNIDEB)

Biotechnology at the University of Debrecen (UNIDEB)

Biotech Education and Training
In 2012, we were pleased to celebrate the 25th anniversary of starting biotechnology specialization within the frame of the traditional 5 years biologist graduate program of the University of Debrecen. Importantly, a more “new biotechnology” oriented 2 years MSc program was accredited in 2010, which now offers specializations in pharmaceutical biotechnology, environmental biotechnology, medical biotechnology, agricultural biotechnology and in biotechnology business administration. It is noteworthy that in the frame of a EU-supported project, university staff members involved in the medical biotechnology programs available at the Universities of Pécs and Debrecen developed a set of teaching materials for biotechnologist students, which was implemented in our biotechnology training scheme in 2012. Although the biotechnology courses are only available in Hungarian the accreditation of an English language Master’s program is on the agenda.

The current Hungarian language program accepts students with various graduate and postgraduate degrees including BSc in biology, bioengineering and environmental science as well as MSc in pharmacology, general medicine, biology, molecular biology and hydrobiology. Students have been enrolled mainly from the Faculties of the University of Debrecen but we also accommodate several students from other universities and colleges in Hungary and abroad. Normally, 20-30 students per year are accepted.

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Daily routine of PhD students in the Microbial Physiology Laboratory of the Department of Biotechnology and Microbiology in the Faculty of Science and Technology

Many students gain qualification in more than one specialization and biotechnology/MBA dual degrees are also available. The University of Debrecen has signed a number of bilateral ERASMUS contracts to facilitate bidirectional exchange between either students or university staff members in the field of biotechnology. The implemented post-graduate program is compatible with similar educational programs of our days in the European Union and in the USA.
Such educational program in the field of biotechnology at the University of Debrecen was highly inspired and is still fueled by the increasing regional and nationwide needs for biotechnologists with an up-to-date knowledge and expertise in the field of applied molecular biology. Our graduated students have found well-paid jobs in the red biotechnology sector and, in many cases, at small and medium size enterprises operating here in Hungary. To complete PhD studies after graduation is also a viable option for our students. The young biotechnologists are highly motivated by the fact that Hungary has the most developed biotechnology sector in the 14 new EU member states and candidate countries as demonstrated by the “Biotech in the new EU member states: An emerging sector” survey issued by Europabio and Venture Valuation in 2009
( Since starting biotechnology education 25 years ago, we always put emphasis on industrial relations.

Considering collaborations with Hungarian and international biotech companies, there is a plethora of joint innovative research projects between university research groups and their industrial partners. The University of Debrecen also accommodates a number spin-off companies with red biotech and food biotech activities. In this publication, we give some details of our current red biotechnology and food biotechnology related activities.

Pharmacological background: The Department of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapy
During the last decade, the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapy of the University of Debrecen was participated in several pharmaceutical and biotechnological development programs. These programs were supported by the pharmaceutical industry or were co-financed by the Hungarian government and the European Union.

The main scientific interest of our workgroup is the investigation of the mechanisms which could lead to the development of insulin resistance. Several aspects of the so called hepatic insulin sensitizing substance mechanism were discovered by our workgroup and the results were published in international peer-reviewed scientific journals. Based on our scientific activity we involved several gradual and post gradual and PhD students in the researches. In order to be able to establish the putative role of drugs, drug candidates or even naturally occurring products on the metabolic control, we utilize broad spectrum of sophisticated in vitro and in vivo preclinical methods and model animals including the determination of plasma metabolic hormone levels by RIA or luminex technology as well as the determination of whole body insulin sensitivity by means of hyperinsulinaemic euglycaemic glucose clamping (the gold standard for whole body insulin sensitivity determination) and determination of hepatic glucose production and peripheral glucose uptake using isotope techniques. Moreover, together with our partners we can use genetically modified small animals (mainly mice and rats) in order to be able to get deeper insight into the molecular mechanisms which are responsible for the developing disease or the developing pharmacological effects of a pharmacologically active compound. Beside the determination of the efficacy of chemical compounds on disease states such as diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) or obesity, migraine, hypertension, pain and inflammation, we also perform some basic toxicological investigation in order to determine e.g. the potentially lethal dose and the relation of the lethal/toxic dose of a given compound to its effective dose. Finally, because in most cases the development of a drug candidate is abandoned due to its potential hazard on cardiac function we picked up some in vitro and in vivo study which can be used to determine the cardiovascular safety of the drug candidates. This contains the other part of our methodological repertoire which relates to the investigation of the cardiovascular function e.g. in animal model of metabolic syndrome. For this purpose we can use the Langendorff-perfused isolated heart method or we can measure the main hemodynamic and electrophysiological features in whole animals.

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In vivo cardiac electrophysiological and hemodynamic measurement in combination with determination of whole body insulin sensitivity in hyperchoesterolaemic, insulin resistant rabbit instrumented with pacemaker electrode.

Relating to the pharmaceutical or biotechnological development our other aim is develop and validate new methods and methodological systems which can facilitate the drug development programs and improve the success rate. In this regard we have a close collaboration with our industrial partner. Such a result of these the research & development projects we developed a device which is able to continuously monitor the tissue blood glucose concentration and drive the infusion pump in order to precisely administer the amount of insulin in order to maintain the physiological blood glucose concentration. Another project aimed to improve the detection and evaluation of the gastrointestinal myoelectric signals.

Taken together the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapy of the University of Debrecen has great expertise in wide range of in vitro and in vivo pharmacological methods in order to contribute to the development of pharmaceutical and biotechnological products. Our industrial relationships include big pharmaceutical companies, small biotech enterprises, medical device developing companies as well as companies interested in the food industry. Based on the research programs running in the department we also participate in the post graduate training program of the University of Debrecen.

Research in Food Biotechnology: production of edible nano size elemental selenium
Selenium forms different chemical compounds, each of which has a different degree of effect, or can even be toxic in bigger quantities. Therefore, it is relevant which compound of selenium will be put into food, and which compound is produced in the course of the production process. The elemental, nanosize red selenium has very low toxicity and good bioavailability.

A novel technology for producing Se nanospheres homogeneous in form and size has been developed in our laboratories. The technology developed is a manufacturing process which enables forming of a suspension as well as a powder containing valuable Se spheres having unique characteristics. Material prepared in such a way can be used in the food industry as food or feed additive. The relative simplicity of the technology developed allows for significant decline in prices which can further broaden the range of useful high quality raw materials available. We applied yogurt bacteria for the production of nanospheres. The technique is the first to use lactic acid bacteria and other probiotic bacteria (Species of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus thermophilus) to form the product, Se nanospheres. The invention enables the production of red and grey elemental Se nanospheres in high purity by using micro-organisms applied in the food industry. These bacteria are commonly used, non-toxic and harmless. Our new technology is patented (see: Prokisch, József and Zommara, Mohsen A.: Process for producing elemental selenium nanospheres. United States Patent 8,003,071 August 23, 2011).

Surprisingly the bioavailability of this selenium form is very good according to our animal experiments and human studies. We produce nanosize (250 nm) red elemental selenium spheres in yogurt bacteria and the dried yogurt can be added to milk based products such yogurt, cottage cheese dessert and milk powder.

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SEM and TEM pictures of selenium spheres produced with Lactobacillus

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Innovative new food biotech products developed by the UNIDEB team

University of Debrecen (UNIDEB)
+36 512-900