Strange barrier to medical genetics

Orfilio Peláez 

WHEN the human genetic code was deciphered relatively recently, it was a leap of infinite magnitude in the long and complex road to understanding the origin of many diseases with a high incidence in the world’s population.  

That celebrated event made it possible for science to have in its hands the tools for understanding how genes intervene in and regulate the functions of the body’s cells and tissue, something was just an impossible dream for medicine in the early 20th century.  

The extremely high level of professionalism among Cuban specialists and a health system at the service of the people’s well-being place our country in a position to carry out the same kinds of genetic studies as First World countries.  

However, the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the U.S. government since 1962 deprives us of access to the most advanced technology in this very promising field, which considerably limits the investigative work of the National Center for Medical Genetics.  

Doctor Beatriz Marcheco, director of the institution, told Granma daily that since 2003, and through the various relevant channels, they have attempted to acquire a gene analysis machine, essential for studying their variations and determining which can lead to the appearance of a group of diseases that are among the leading causes of death in Cuba, or that have a high incidence.  

These diseases include breast, colon and prostate cancer; asthma, diabetes mellitus, ischemic cardiopathies and high blood pressure, to list a few.  

According to the young scientists, the analyzer is made by a U.S. company, Applied Biosystems, and classifies as the most advanced technology in the world for the abovementioned research.  

That machine, she said, works extremely fast and is capable of identifying the genetic predisposition of individuals to the abovementioned pathologies. This provides an opportunity for changing lifestyles and other preventive actions aimed at avoiding these conditions.  

Dr. Marchecho finds it absurd that every time we ask for the machine, the answer from U.S. government authorities has always been silence; in other words, they have no arguments whatsoever to explain why they are refusing to sell us a product whose noble and sole function is to help protect the people’s health.  

“We don’t even have the right to enter the company’s web page to obtain information, because access is immediately denied when they see that the interested party is in Cuba,” she said.  

The following examples illustrate the impact of not having the gene analyzer. A study undertaken by the Medical Genetics Center on the predisposition to different types of dementia among the Cuban population, including Alzheimer’s, took two years. With the machine, the study would have taken one week.  

The irrational barrier also prevents thousands of families from benefiting from these types of evaluations, aimed at discovering whether any of their members are prone to developing certain malignant tumors or chronic diseases, including high blood pressure and diabetes. There is no question that the social and economic cost of this inhumane practice is enormous.

Translated by Granma International 


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