In spite of the U.S. embargo, Cuba has been able to established a strong and vibrant medical research and biotechnology industry with 1.8 scientists per 1,000 inhabitants equal to that in the EU. Credit: Cuba Heal.

That small island nation in the Caribbean that is so hated by the US government continues to do great things in medicinal research for the good of mankind, albeit without fanfare.

Cuba’s National Institute of Hematology and Immunology (IHI) announced this week it has started a clinical trial to use stem cells in people convalescing from Covid-19, Cuba News reported.

According to Dr. Consuelo Macías Abraham, director of that institution, it is about the use of adult stem cells in Covid-19 patients who have lung lesions, the report said.

“We have been able to include in the study patients classified as seriously and critically ill while hospitalized who had acute respiratory symptoms,” she said.

“It has been possible to appreciate in them the permanence of inflammatory or fibrotic lesions, after effects of the infection by the new coronavirus, detected by means of high-resolution Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT).”

She specified that the aim is to eliminate or reduce post-infection pulmonary interstitial or fibrotic inflammatory lesions, preventing the progression of the disease and improving the person’s quality of life, the report said.

Essentially, the treatment could benefit all critically and seriously ill patients with proven lung lesions.

“We have already treated patients from Havana and patients from other provinces are being recruited.”

She told Cuba News that “the trial marks the beginning of the care of the recovered patient in the national health system, including the primary level, with a comprehensive first-level study and the possibility of consultations with other specialties.”

According to the latest data, the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) reported 15 new Covid-19 patients in the last 24 hours, in which there were no deaths due to the disease, according to Dr. Francisco Durán, national director of epidemiology.

With the new positive cases, the number of infections on the island totaled 1,931, of which 177 remain hospitalized, Dr. Durán said at the daily press conference on the pandemic in Cuba.

For a country whose entire gross domestic product (GDP) is just half of what the US government spends on research, Cuba punches above its weight in some areas of science, according to Scientific American.

Fuelled by relatively generous government support, biomedical researchers have managed to excel at creating low-cost vaccines, developing cancer treatments and screening infants for disorders. 

In fact, the productivity and quality of some research in Cuba surprises those from other countries, despite the US embargo which prevents the nation from buying scientific equipment. 

When Fidel Castro took over, one of his first acts was to create and enforce a universal-literacy requirement, and he prioritized knowledge building and discovery.

“The future of our country has to be necessarily a future of men of science,” Castro said in a now-famous 1960 speech.

As a direct result, the IHI was founded in 1966 as a center of science and technological innovation of the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba. 

Since its foundation, biochemical and genetic engineering techniques have been developed that have allowed the introduction of prenatal diagnosis in sickle cell anemia and hemophilia, chronic diseases of genetic origin, as well as notable advances in the study of structural variants of enzymes and of abnormal hemoglobins.

In Cuba, the application of stem cells has been controlled by scientific research projects and ethically endorsed by the use of autologous adult stem cells, extracted from bone marrow or peripheral blood previously stimulated, as a set of stem cells included in a concentrate of mononuclear cells. 

These cells, because they belong to the patient, do not face ethical problems or immunological rejection.

The Trump administration’s reinforcing of the US blockade against Cuba — a reversal of President Obama’s policies — is not only affecting trade and tourism between the two countries but also hindering the collaboration on potential research and advancement in key scientific areas.

In spite of the embargo and due to the nature of its economic model being less market oriented and more focused on research for the bettering of quality of life, Cuba has been able to established a strong and vibrant medical research and biotechnology industry with 1.8 scientists per 1,000 inhabitants equal to that in the EU.