After decades of a tumultuous relationship, American-Cuban exchanges have finally taken a positive step forward. This change brings an unlikely ray of hope to the medical field – for America.
Cimavax, a Cuban-developed lung cancer vaccine, has now been introduced to America. This vaccine battles a protein that tumors produce and causes the body to release antibodies that fight against a hormone known as the “epidermal growth factor.” Cimavax works like other vaccines in that it doesn't directly attack the tumor; rather, it stimulates the immune system to tackle the disease. Basically, Cimavax prevents lung tumors from growing, thus rendering tumors manageable but not benign.
If the vaccine can’t prevent lung cancer, what's the big fuss about? Cimavax in its current form is only proven to increase the life expectancy of lung cancer patients for an average of four to six months; however, the drug also has the potential to limit the spread of other types of cancers. The biggest draw to Cimavax is its potential to create preventative medicine for cancers with the epidermal growth factor. For example, the epidermal growth factor actually plays an essential role in breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer. This could potentially change the face of medicine as we know it.
In fact, a project to start clinical trials with Cimavax is already underway in the U.S.. Earlier this year, New York's Roswell Park Cancer Institute finalized an agreement to conduct vaccine research with the Center for Molecular Technology in Cuba. The CEO of Roswell Park, Candace Johnson, commented that the opportunity is very exciting. Experts indicated that initial research shows that the vaccine has low toxicity and is inexpensive to produce and store.
Despite years of economic sanctions, Cuba has found a way to excel in the medical field. In an environment where the average worker receives a paycheck of only about $20 per month, Fidel and Raul Castro made medical research a priority at a fraction of the U.S.'s healthcare budget. “They've done more with less, so they've had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over forty years, they've had a preeminent immunology technology community,” said Johnson.
And it doesn't stop there. Biologist Thomas Rothstein from Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York is also working with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Technology to treat lung cancer. Rothstein’s team is using a Cuban drug known as Racotumomab, which takes a different route than Cimavex but achieves a similar result. “Investigators from around the world are trying to crack the nut of cancer,” Rothstien said. “The Cubans are thinking in ways that are novel and clever,” he added.
Cuba makes it a priority to care for its people; its people have emerged as a dark horse by thinking outside the box. Hopefully, the strengthened American-Cuban relationship will continue to spur innovative thinking and inventive projects.
[Sources: WIRED Magazine; Associated Press]