In crisis-hit Argentina, cancer researcher turns to game show for funds

Credit: REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Amid a swirling economic crisis and protests over budget cuts for research in Argentina, one scientist has found a novel way to fundraise: winning money on a television game show.

By Miguel Lo Bianco and Cassandra Garrison

BUENOS AIRES, May 10 (Reuters) - Amid a swirling economic crisis and protests over budget cuts for research in Argentina, one scientist has found a novel way to fundraise: winning money on a television game show.

Marina Simian, a biologist for Argentina's National Scientific and Technical Research Council, went on the local version of the TV program "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," saying she needed the money to support her cancer research.

Simian, the head of a nanobiology lab researching oncology treatments for breast cancer and other forms of the disease, used her intellect on the game show to win 500,000 pesos ($11,000) to pay for laboratory supplies.

"I am not a hero. I used a strategy that was a bit creative or different to get financing for my work group," Simian said in an interview at the National University of San Martín in Buenos Aires.

Government funding has become less reliable for science research in recession-hit Argentina amid rampant inflation and a tumbling peso. The weaker exchange rate has also sapped people's spending power, especially buying equipment overseas in dollars, a common practice due to better availability and lower prices.

Jorge Aguado, a senior government science and technology official, told Reuters that research budgets have increased since President Mauricio Macri took office in 2015, but acknowledged the economic volatility has caused delays in doling out the funds.

He added that fewer Argentine scientists were returning to the country after doing research abroad, with just 41 last year down from 90 in 2013 - a potential brain drain.

Argentina has three Nobel prize winners for science, but researchers have long lamented a scarcity of resources for the field.

The funding hold-ups are why Simian threw her hat into the ring on Tuesday night as the nation watched on live television.

She runs a lab where she and other researchers study resistance against cancer medications. The project received funding in 2017, but Simian said the money has been coming in at a trickle and last year she only received half of what was due.

Simian, who addressed the current challenge during her appearance on the show, said she hopes her TV debut will draw more attention to the work being done by researchers.

"I cannot believe the impact this has had. I hope it will help us talk about what is happening in science and technology. In the end, that is what matters to us scientists," Simian told Reuters.

"We love what we do. We do it with great effort, but we need the minimum conditions to work. If there are no changes in the economic direction for science, I see it becoming very complex."

(Reporting by Miguel Lo Bianco and Cassandra Garrison; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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