Facing ‘doomsday’ scenario, scientists consider fleeing Brazil

Facing ‘doomsday’ scenario, scientists consider fleeing Brazil
Source: Science Magazine

Two years ago, Fernanda De Felice was at the top of her game. The biochemist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was developing a nonhuman primate model for Alzheimer’s disease and publishing in top journals. But since then, a state budget crisis has cut off all public funding for her work. In March, De Felice will decamp to Canada for a 2-year stint at Queen’s University in Kingston, leaving her husband and main collaborator, UFRJ professor Sergio Ferreira, to shuttle between Rio and Kingston. “It’s not what I wanted, but it’s what I had to do,” De Felice says. “Staying in Brazil would mean the end of my career.”

Thousands of other scientists in the state of Rio de Janeiro, which includes Rio, Brazil’s second biggest city, and many key research institutions, face a similar struggle. Declining federal support for science in cash-strapped Brazil had sapped funds for scholarships and lab infrastructure. Now, Rio de Janeiro’s funding agency, FAPERJ, is bankrupt. It has fallen $150 million behind on grant payments—and over 2 years has cut off funds to 3670 research projects. Last year, it devoted most of its spending—$30 million—to graduate scholarships. Science funding faces similar threats in other Brazilian states.

A massive brain drain is a real risk, scientists warn. “I know a lot of people who want to leave,” says Stevens Rehen, a stem cell researcher at UFRJ and the D’Or Institute for Research and Education. Compounding the poverty, he says, is a despair that permeates the scientific community. “This is affecting an entire generation of scientists.” Rehen has kept his lab running on cash accumulated before 2015, and his team has published several papers in recent months. However, he says, “We’ve burned all the fat that we had left.” FAPERJ owes him more than $475,000, and last year he lost three postdocs: one to Poland, one to the United States, and another to the private sector.

brazil doomsday.jpg, May 2020



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