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Professor GEORGE FÜST MD, DSc – born 14 November 1937, died 5 July 2012

The death of Prof. George Füst inflicted an irreparable loss upon the community of immunologists, both in Hungary and abroad. During his career, he persevered in creating an intellectual and physical atmosphere – in many places and on many occasions – the usefulness, and inspiring aura of which have always been perceptible and are bound to last for long. Prof. Füst not only established a school, but through demonstrating humanity, genuine honesty, and enthusiasm, he exerted persisting and vital influence on many of us to become researchers. His students will miss his wise advice, to-the-point suggestions, and gentle, often spirited guidance.George Füst was born on 14 November 1937 in Budapest, Hungary. He matriculated at the “Kölcsey” High School in 1956, and graduated from the Medical University of Budapest in 1962. His first job was at the serology department of the National Institute of Public Health, where he had contact with the research into humoral immunity, as well as with the application of its results in practice. During the early phase of his career as a researcher, he was following the discovery of the details of the complement system. Then, he put the new knowledge into practice gradually, through collaborating in many relevant scientific projects, as well as by developing diagnostic applications. He has stuck to this specialty during his whole career; this is exactly the field where his performance as a school founder is most conspicuous.

As regards the future, his collaboration with Prof. János Gergely during the seventies of the past century proved decisive. In 1973, Prof. Gergely was appointed to establish the Department of Immunology at the ‘Eötvös Lóránd” University (ELTE), Budapest. As he had to share his time between the latter and his former commission as Head of the Immunochemistry Unit of the National Institute of Hematology & Blood Transfusion (OHVI), he invited George Füst to join the staff of Immunochemistry Unit at OHVI. Together, they spent fruitful and pleasant years with their colleagues – this period shaped the future. Prof. Füst worked at the OHVI between 1974 and 1995, initially as senior research associate, and eventually, as the head of the Immunology Department.

Perhaps the first in the sequence of his achievements of significance for posterity was to establish the preconditions for the diagnostic testing of the complement system in Hungary – this was a pioneering work even on the international scale. It both required developing proprietary test procedures, and adapting globally proven methods. Thanks to him, Hungary was among the first countries, where the diagnostic work-up of hereditary angioedema (HAE) became feasible; subsequently, he always regarded this field as one of his core interests. In 1987, he authored the first reference book written in the Hungarian language on complement diagnostics. He made an incessant effort to disseminate the knowledge on the properties of the complement system, as well as to participate in under- and postgraduate education. Several of his students – such as Lilian Varga, Tünde Hidvégi, Béla Schmidt, and Zoltán Prohászka – have been or still are carrying on the development and clinical utilization of complement diagnostics. Under his leadership, Hungarian complement research has risen to the international forefront. This is signified by the conference series “The Role of Complement in Human Diseases” (initiated by him in 1986 at Balatonfüred, Hungary), which has been held no less than thirteen times by 2011 – he probably took greatest pride in this fact.

Meeting the challenges of the eighties, he was among the first in Hungary to begin studying HIV/AIDS-related issues, and diagnostic problems, in particular. In the OHVI, he established the HIV diagnostics laboratory, which later evolved into the HIV Verification Laboratory of the National Blood Service. As a member of a pioneering team of clinicians and microbiologists, he co-authored a Hungarian-language book on HIV. Additionally, he teamed up with his wife to edit and publish the health education periodical AIDS Híradó. Some of his students, including Eszter Ujhelyi and Veronika Tarján have been working in the field of HIV diagnostics to date. During the decade from 1985 to 1995, he was secretary of the National AIDS Committee (NAB, formerly: the Professional AIDS Committee), and devoted enormous effort and time to fulfilling this assignment. The NAB has incontestable merit in achieving the current, favorable epidemiological situation regarding HIV/AIDS in Hungary, as the benefits from its efforts and deliberate resource allocation at that time are still apparent today. His talent for founding scientific schools showed during these years, as demonstrated by the many theses (seven PhD and two DSc degree of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) completed at the OHVI.

He became actively involved in higher education after 1995, when he accepted the invitation by Prof. László Romics to become head of the Research Laboratory of the 3rd Department of Internal Medicine at Semmelweis University. His research topics concerned current public health issues, as well as significant questions raised in the international literature. By choosing projects correctly and organizing scientific activities consistently during the 17 years spent in the research laboratory, he helped 15 graduates to complete their PhD theses, whereas two of his colleagues attained DSc degree of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In adapting to the university environment, he was extremely efficient and responsive to new challenges. Having read the signs of the times, he started to use, explore, and teach carefully selected genetic methods, and internet resources, along with related biostatistical and bioinformatics techniques. He organized a standalone course in biostatistics; he placed continued emphasis on the education of his colleagues; and was extremely particular about designing experiments painstakingly, as well as analyzing their results appropriately. In his research, Prof. George Füst focused on collaboration. As he said in an interview, “After scientific conferences – Hungarian or international, I usually felt disappointed if I had to return home without an agreement on collaboration!” He accomplished almost all his important results through building and holding together a competent and successful team. During joint ventures, he always contributed more of his own knowledge and of the means available to him than he would have expected from the partners. Many owe their success and achievement to his unselfish support and guidance.

His activity in scientific policy was similarly outstanding. He played a decisive role in the Hungarian Society for Immunology (MIT) since its foundation, and held the position of Chair between 2004 and 2007. As an editor of a book intended to describe the history of the organization, he roved the country with his Dictaphone to interview key MIT functionaries. He was a member of the board – and president, between 1986 and 2002 – of the European Complement Network. He participated in several committees of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (he was secretary of the Second Committee of the Medical Section between 1996 and 2007), in the activities of professional colleges; he was a member of the National Research Fund Committee of Hungary, and a number of scientific associations.

The career of Dr. George Füst is a commendable example both for the Hungarian and international scientific community. His students could imbibe his ability to focus on the heart of the problem, his real appreciation of results, and his rational methodical reasoning. He led his colleagues along their careers by providing guidance – while respecting their individuality, and giving free vent to their independent ideas, but with a strong focus on the objective to be achieved. His great enthusiasm over even the smallest scientific finding was invigorating for his students and colleagues. He could rejoice selflessly over the success of others. He always consulted his colleagues before making any decision with consequences for the entire team; he accepted criticism positively and open-mindedly. He had a fantastic ability for mental concentration, as he could work with ease on five or six tasks or manuscripts simultaneously; he could spot a typo at a glance on any page presented to him. In common with truly great scientists, he led a puritan life and was an unpretentious man; however, his personality was extremely colorful. He was a natural-born explorer, also curious about the world beyond the confines of his profession. When attending conferences abroad, his familiarity with the sights of the given city would have put professional tour guides to shame. He started learning Spanish at the age of 65; he adored music, theatre, and literature. Together with his grandchildren, they wrote and published a storybook – this shows how much he loved to play with them, and how keen he was to train their minds. He was an excellent cook; he was always keeping current his knowledge of sports results, and was a regular swimmer himself. A week ago, he was planning the itinerary for the next conference, but in the end, he left without us and traveled too far… He left work undone behind, but took along half-dreamt plans, and his treasury of gems – inexhaustible ideas, which he has always been lavishing on us. He has set very high standards, and let go of our hand. Nevertheless, we feel obliged to carry on with his work by adhering to the cast of mind shared, and the goal set by him.

These moments are obscured by grief and huge loss, but we, who have known and loved him, shall never forget him – either the work he has done, or his mindset in doing it.

 

Henriette Farkas, Zoltán Prohászka, Lilian Varga

farkash@kut.sote.hu prohoz@kut.sote.hu lvarga@kut.sote.hu

 

Research Laboratory, 3rd Department of Medicine, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary