Fomenting Cuban scientific talent

Source:  Granma
December 9 2015

by Nuria Barbosa León | internet@granma.cu

The National Center for Scientific Research (CNIC) was founded in July 1965, with the aim of using scientific methods to solve biomedical problems and develop sophisticated products

national centre for scientific research.jpgThe National Center for Scientific Research was inaugurated in July, 1965. Photo: Arnaldo Santos

The National Center for Scientific Research (CNIC) was founded in July 1965, with the aim of using scientific methods to solve biomedical problems and develop sophisticated products, and has seen great progress across all its specialist areas.

Blanca Rosa Hung Llamos CNIC Director General.jpgCNIC Director General, Blanca Rosa Hung Llamos (photo), explains to Granma International that the institution’s leading product is Policosanol (more commonly known as PPG), a cholesterol reducing medicine which was awarded the Gold Medal from the World Intellectual Property Organization in 1996.

Affiliated with the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industry Group BioCubaFarma, the center also develops nutritional supplements with anti-osteoporotic and gastro-protective benefits, which help to improve the health and quality of life of Cubans.

In 1984, the CNIC manufactured MEDICID-03, the first automated electroencephalograph, a continuation of NEUROCID-M, which registers electrical activity in the musculoskeletal system. In 1990 the center took a step further developing AUDIX, the world’s first electro-acoustic analyzer and SUMA, an Ultramicro-Analytical System.

The institution has trained thousands of Cuban scientists in the field of biotechnology

CNIC Director General Blanca Rosa Hung Llamos notes that the institution has trained thousands of Cuban scientists in the field of biotechnology.

Llamos, with a PhD in Applied Life Sciences, also highlights research carried out by the institution across the food, agriculture, livestock and neuroscience industries as well as the development of microbiological equipment and that used for ozone therapies, environmental protection and electron microscopy.

The entity has also obtained molecular markers for research into genetic improvement and plant disease resistance, heart monitoring equipment, and cosmetics.

Creating products from natural sources

She notes that 566 employees are currently working at the CNIC, 48% of which are women and 72% university graduates, with an overall average age of 42. Workers at the institution conduct research to create base products from natural sources such as honey, sugar cane, Royal Plam fruit (palmiche), ozone, and sunflower oil, among others, which are used to treat and alleviate the symptoms of various illnesses.

Since an outbreak of cholera in Peru in 1993, the CNIC has been working on developing a preventative vaccine, an effort which intensified after an epidemic of the disease erupted in Haiti in 2010. Also participating on this research project, currently in the advanced phase, are two other Cuban institutions: the Finlay Institute and the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine.

The CNIC is composed of three research departments: the Center for Natural Products, Infectious Diseases, and Environment, together with the Ozone Research Clinic.

An infectious diseases lab.jpgAn infectious diseases laboratory where studies in to cholera are carried out. Photo: Jose M. Correa

Training human resources

“Something which distinguishes the Center,” notes the director “is the role it plays in training human resources, which currently work in the field of biotechnological sciences nationwide; given our status as a Ministry of Higher Education accredited institution, we train university graduates and technicians.”

For over 50 years, the CNIC has seen more than 30,000 specialists across all its departments and laboratories undertake further studies, 389 of which have earned a PhD, with many becoming leaders in their fields; while it is also normal to find managers trained at the emblematic institution working across the network of other affiliated entities, notes the director.

The CNIC according to its workers 

 Dr. José Ilnait Ferrer began working at the CNIC – the first scientific center founded by the Revolution – after graduating as a medical doctor over 50 years ago.

“I have worked on countless projects related to hereditary and nutritional illnesses. I proposed the method for studies into Phenylketonuria in newborns, which I applied to my own children and grandchildren,” states the doctor.

“I am currently working on pharmacological research in the line of natural medicine. I recently finished a study into treating benign prostate diseases,” he states.

Fidel, the inspiration

Fidel 222Ferrer also notes that Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro was the main inspiration behind, and founder of, the CNIC. He is moved recalling the long conversations the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution would have with workers, interested in progress being made in research into cures for illnesses, his main concern.

The doctor highlights that the center faced its most difficult time during the special period, with the fall of the socialist camp and tightening of the genocidal U.S economic, financial and commercial blockade during the 1990s, which continues to be the primary obstacle to the center’s work, a sentiment shared by Dr. Talena Ledón Pérez, who joined the institution in 1995, after graduating in Biochemistry.

The US blockade

“The blockade policy not only prevents us from accessing advanced technology,” according to Pérez, also head researcher at the CNIC, “but also from purchasing replacement parts, acquiring visas for our professionals to attend events held in the U.S. and exchanges between experts from the two countries. I think about how U.S. citizens are being deprived of the opportunity to benefit from our medicines, products and services.”

She speaks passionately about the cholera prevention vaccine, a project she has been working on for over 20 years, highlighting the sacrifices made by her colleagues to achieve results, which include missing family celebrations and time with spouses and children.

Working like a team

Pérez emphasized the good relationships maintained between all colleagues, noting that exchanges take place in a positive environment. “We all participate in scientific discussions and all opinions are valid no matter where they come from,” she notes.

Twenty-seven year old Eladio Cruz Clemente, director of Economy agrees, stating, “They invite me to attend research project debates and our opinions are heard and even taken into consideration when decisions are made, we work together like an interconnected team.”

He points out that young people are mostly attracted to the center given the opportunity it provides to expand their knowledge and advance in any of the roles they undertake. Clemente highlights his personal experience as a perfect example of this. Joining the center in 2007 as a mid-level technician in Finance and Prices, he has now finished his undergraduate degree and is currently doing a Masters in Administration with the possibility of continuing onto a PhD. He is carrying out research into the logistics of the center and developing proposals to improve the CNIC ’s internal administration system.
“Generational barriers are overcome through good human relationships and workers exchanging opinions. Youth easily adapt to changes in technology and make a positive impact on the group dynamic. The oldest members have a wealth of experience and knowledge, accumulated through great dedication to their work.”

He sums up his personal assessment of the CNIC, stating, “I feel proud working alongside scientists who have achieved important results in Cuba and the world. Working as Director of Economy fascinates me. I never imagined advancing professionally so fast. One always dreams and aspires to make it, and I feel very pleased to have done so, so quickly.”

Source:  Fomenting Cuban scientific talent

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