Turkey’s global brand paves the way for global science

Turkey’s global brand paves the way for global science

Yıldız Holding, which is home to global brands such as Godiva and United Biscuits, set up the Sabri Ülker Center at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2014 with a $24 million donation. The holding has 56,000 staff on four continents; they have made $3.6 billion in investments in the past five years.  

The head of the Yıldız Holding’s Executive Committee, Murat Ülker, was the target of several criticisms at that time for not donating such a huge amount to a Turkish university.  

When you consider the vast problems the academia are going through today, it is easy to understand what a correct decision this was because whatever you say, scientific studies need more freedom and a more liberal environment. 

The person heading the center is Professor Gökhan Hotamışlıgil, who found the gene that causes obesity and diabetes. He was a professor at Harvard by the age of 41. He has received the American Diabetes Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award, as well as the Vehbi Koç Foundation’s health and science award. The huge donation Yıldız Holding gave to the center is under Hotamışlıgil’s control because Harvard University allows a fund to be controlled by a scientist. 

The center has provided a long-term study environment for both Turkish and international academics and students, while also forming a bridge between Turkey and global science. In other words, it enables our young scientists to integrate into the global science world. 

I had the opportunity both to listen to and talk to Hotamışlıgil in Istanbul over the weekend, when he introduced two young scientists to us.

One of them was Assistant Professor Furkan Burak, while the other was Assistant Professor Ebru Erbay, who completed her studies at the Sabri Ülker Center. She came back to Bilkent University in Ankara and has set up her own laboratory.  

Burak has developed a molecule that led to the discovery of a new hormone which orders the liver to produce sugar. Erbay, for her part, has made an important discovery concerning how lipokin affects cardiovascular diseases.  

Hotamışlıgil is proud of the successes of these young scientists: “These new-generation scientists from the Sabri Ülker Center made their mark with outstanding discoveries in 2016.” 

Both discoveries were printed in leading science magazines. 

Regarding Erbay’s return home after finishing her studies at the center, Hotamışlıgil said, “As a matter of fact, all Turkish scientists of the new generation abroad have in their heart [the desire to] one day to return to their home country.” 

But he made a very important warning on this point. 

“We have to encourage and protect our young scientists who have returned to Turkey after successful studies here. Scientists should feel safe. They should never feel the anxiety that the university rector may fire them or that the [state scientific] funding would be cut,” he said.