Cancer Research in Boxers: Italian Doctors Strip to Reveal Funding Shortfalls

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Chest hair, biceps and boxer shorts: Doctors at a cancer research institute in Naples have posed half-naked for a pin-up calendar. Research in Italy is burdened by bureaucracy and funding shortages. It is hoped that this private initiative will re-animate patrons.

Through his glasses, Professor Mozzillo gives the camera a penetrating, slightly skeptical look. His hands are passing lightly over the abdomen of a patient, lying on an operating table. The surgeon is wearing gloves, a face mask and plastic cap, as though the operation were about to begin. But there's a small problem: The woman on the table is fully clothed, the doctor practically naked.

Mozillo is one of 20 doctors and researchers at the Pascale Foundation, a cancer research institute in Naples, who are going to unusual lengths to raise awareness and money for their work. Just in time for Christmas, the Fondazione Pascale is bringing out a pin-up calendar in which oncologists, surgeons, nurses, caretakers and even the institute's director are posing in their underwear. The slogan: "Without you, research is bare."

"We want to bring research closer to the average citizen, to allow them to participate," institute director Mario Santangelo told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Research, he says, has to cease hiding in the ivory tower. "It takes a little bit of irony and humor to reach the people," says Santangelo.

And there's apparently no lack of that among the Neopolitan researchers. Sporting beer bellies, chest hair and droopy biceps, the "Pascale" doctors took a courageous plunge into their underwear drawers and presented themselves to the camera with admirable aplomb.

The pictures are touching in their naturalness. Doctor Ionna stands in black knee socks in the prep room, slightly bow-legged, pulling on his gloves. The stethoscope hangs around his neck, his striped boxers are a little tight. His colleague Vecchione leans his generous stomach against a lectern in the auditorium, and launches into his lecture.

"All participants went about this with professionalism and a high degree of concentration," says photographer Simone Florena of the shooting. The doctors worked on the shots until midnight -- after a long day in the operating room or lab. "They were perfect. Despite their normal seriousness, they were able to relax," Florena told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The only one who was allowed to smile was Institute director Santangelo. "We wanted the calendar to end with an image of hope.

"The black and white calendar is available for €10 at kiosks and books stores across the country. Half of the initial print run of 10,000 has already been sold and €20,000 was raised at the initial presentation of the calendar at the end of November. All profits are going to the association to fight cancer "Lega per la lotta ai tumori."

And it, like many other organisations of its kind, is fighting an uphill battle; Italian researchers are faced with run-down institutes, poorly-equipped labs, over-burdened professors and a fat bureaucracy. The Italian National Research Council (CNR) researched what countries invested the most funding in research in 2004. Of the 22 countries investigated, Italy scored second worst. Only 1.1 percent of Italy's GDP ended up in universities and labs. Germany, with 2.5 percent, took eighth place, while Israel topped the list with 4.4 percent.

It was only thanks to the public spending on research that Italy was able to score a few points. However, the supply of scientific personnel is as meager as the research spending; here too the Italians landed second to last. That Italy still produces Nobel Prize winners at all has a lot to do with the fact that they take off to the United States early in their careers. Mario Capecchi, for example -- one of this year's Nobel Prize winners for medicine -- was born in Italy but grew up in the US.

Institute director Santagelo says that although the research institutions in Naples are supported by both the state and the region, the funding is never enough. "Research is always in development and costs ever more -- it's no different here from elsewhere in Europe."

The Pascale Foundation has distinguished itself in Europe for its research in the area of bowel cancer. Santangelo says that they are reporting "survival rates that once would have been considered unthinkable."

The culture of making donations is "stronger in northern Italy, where there's industry and more production." It's easier to come up with funding there than in the poorer south. But there are still business people, private individuals and entrepreneurs in Naples who donate. And that's who the calendar is aimed at. "Everyone should be interested in science. In a modern state, there can be no development without research."

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