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The gene collector

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7265.854 (Published 07 October 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:854

As the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust get ready to launch their national genetic database, Robin McKie meets George Radda, the man who is spearheading the project

Sir George Radda is not your average asylum seeker. Dapper, ebullient, and cheerily amiable, he is the very antithesis of the sullen alien infiltrator so grimly stereotyped by the press. For all his assured appearance, though, the man who heads Britain's Medical Research Council is as familiar as any refugee with the midnight flight from a homeland and the illicit border crossing. Only the unmistakable lilt of his mid-European accent gives a clue to his unsettled past.

George Radda was a 20 year old chemistry student in Budapest in 1956 when the Hungarian uprising ended in brutal Soviet reprisals. A twilight of repression settled over his country and young Radda, encouraged by his parents, chose to run. With a briefcase, a spare shirt, and a handful of cash, he took his sister, Marta, and his younger brother, Sipi, and fled.

In true adventure book style, the trio—their route blocked by troops—hid in a farmer's cart and were smuggled to the Austria-Hungary border on the Danube. “There were a couple of soldiers on the bridge,” recalls Radda. “So I took a …

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