The institute, founded by Fidel, is currently focused on eight priority public health projects
LILLIAM RIERA / PHOTOS ALBERTO BORREGO
APPROACHING 25 years since its foundation by Fidel, the Immunoassay Center (CIE), with 100% Cuban technology, is supporting eight health programs of high priority for the population’s well-being, focusing on new procedures for the early diagnosis of metabolic and chronic non-contagious diseases, among the most common causes of death in Cuba and internationally.
As other institutions located in the West Havana Scientific Complex, the CIE carries out its work guided by the ‘complete cycle’ concept, which includes research, development, production and sales. Its focus is the manufacture of reactives and electronic equipment using CIE developed software, for early diagnosis of a variety of illnesses through broad based screening programs.
The development of an ultra-micro analytical system, known as SUMA technology, marked the beginning of the center’s successful development. This was a dream of its director and founder, Dr. José Luis Fernández Yero, who told Granma he was able to make it a reality, thanks to the Revolution.
Since its incorporation into the National Scientific Research Center (CNIC) in the 1970’s, the institute began to work on the design of a system which could allow for the non-invasive prenatal diagnosis of congenital birth defects through the measurement of alpha-fetal protein in a pregnant woman’s blood. This was the project Dr. Fernández Yero described and defended in his 1980 dissertation.
On July 29, 1981, Fidel learned of the project’s preliminary results. Fernández Yero recalls that the Comandante en Jefe was very affected by photos of children born with various defects and said, "If we could avoid just one of these cases, it would be worth any effort we make."
With Fidel’s attentive support, SUMA technology made its first appearance in 1982 and, that same year, nationwide screening began.
The first pieces of equipment were fabricated in collaboration with the German Democratic Republic, until 1984, when this country ended the joint project.
In 1985, the first units constructed in Cuba were completed by a group of young CNIC scientists.
Considering the positive outcomes of the analyses done, construction of a modern facility to industrially produce the reactives and equipment needed to continue the screening was approved in January 1986. A year later, on September 7, the CIE was completed.
MORE THAN 300 LABS IN CUBA, PLUS 500 ABROAD, EQUIPPED BY CIE
Currently, there are 325 laboratories equipped with SUMA technology in Cuba, 246 in Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) facilities. Abroad, 474 have been placed in several Central and South American countries, as well as in China. The CIE provides the technical support needed for all its installed equipment.
SUMA technology is key to the center’s participation in the eight national screening programs and other special efforts undertaken by MINSAP, including those focusing on maternal-infant issues; blood, placenta and organ certification; epidemiological vigilance; cancer of the prostrate, cervix, colon and breast; adult metabolic disorders; and minimal access neurosurgery.
The CIE manufactures 33 kits used to detect 19 illnesses, among them those incompatible with life; congenital birth defects; congenital hypothyroidism which leads to severe mental retardation if not treated; Hepatitis B and C; HIV; dengue fever; leprosy, Chagas disease and Toxoplasmosis (parasitic infection). Several of the components of the kits are produced in collaboration with neighboring centers in the Scientific Complex.
Fernández Yero emphasized that between 1982 and March of 2012, 3,784,578 pregnant women have been tested using SUMA technology to prenatally diagnose birth defects, detecting 8,040 cases of birth defects defined as incompatible with life, which allowed for the pregnancy to be ended in a timely fashion if the couple so decided.
As for early diagnosis of hypothyroidism in newborns, the director reported that since 1986 through March 2012, 3,381,849 infants have been tested, of which 803 had the illness. These babies were treated immediately and were able to develop normally.
Cuba was the second country in the Americas, after Canada, and fifth world-wide, to provide universal access to this type of testing for newborns.
Fernández Yero also highlighted the importance of the country’s blood certification program, which guarantees the quality of all blood donated, ensuring that all blood transfusions are safe and do not contribute to spreading infectious disease.
CANCER ALSO A PRIORITY
The center is currently directing its research toward the development of new procedures for the early diagnosis and control of chronic, non-contagious diseases, among them cancer, and metabolic disorders such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
In Cuba, cancer is the second most common cause of death, only less widespread than heart disease.
Cervical cancer, for example, kills 450 women a year, despite free, universal access to Pap smear testing.
The CIE provides the Ministry of Public Health with needed kits, containing all materials required to conduct a one time test.
The center has developed a video colposcope which provides doctors with a magnified view of the cervix, leading to better diagnoses of problems. In addition to equipment already in place in specialized gynecological centers, at least one machine will be made available in all of the country’s municipalities.
The center has also produced a test for PSA (Prostrate Specific Antigen) which indicates the risk of developing prostrate cancer. This type of cancer kills 2,500 men a year in Cuba.
PSA screening, which has begun in the province of Santiago de Cuba with asymptomatic men over the age of 50, is to be extended throughout the country.
The institution led by Fernández Yero has also patented a test for the detection of blood in fecal matter, contributing to the early detection of malignant colon tumors, responsible for the deaths of 1,242 Cuban women and 935 men last year.
During the final months of 2012, broad-based screening with the test will begin for adults over the age of 60, across the country.
Glucose meters and sensors used in the screening and control of blood sugar, which all diabetics who must inject insulin acquire at low cost in pharmacies, were developed by the CIE.
The Center has also made available technology to detect albumen in urine, which is a risk factor, indicative of possible kidney problems, heart attacks and strokes.
Among the valuable new products which show significant promise, is the 96-position micro X-ray, developed and patented in Cuba, which conducts 38,400 analyses in six minutes’ time.
Fernández Yero reported that the center is also looking to extend its attention to infectious and genetic diseases, as well as other types of cancer, in collaboration with the Molecular Immunology Center.
The CIE provides MINSAP with the reactives and equipment it needs, in addition to fulfilling its export commitments, which last year reached 53.5 million dollars in sales.
The director reported that there are currently 135 specialized comprehensive screening centers across the country which must be equipped and that, by the end of 2012, such a facility should be functioning in each of the country’s 168 municipalities.
The center exemplifies the integration being developed within Cuba’s primary health care system, with the sharing of responsibilities and tasks involved in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.
The accomplishments of this group of professionals is undoubtedly impressive, although the director believes that more progress is needed, especially in terms of improving the population’s access to services, as well as in the area of exports and diversification of markets.
Clearly, the CIE will continue to be the "jewel" Fidel identified that September 7 in 1987.