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Cubas Immunoassay Research Center reaches twenty

More than a quarter century has gone by and Dr. Jose Luis Fernandez Yero still remembers in great detail his first meeting with President Fidel Castro a late afternoon of 1981.

The following year, the ultramicroanalytical system (SUMA) began to be generalized. Five years later, on September 7, 1987, the president was inaugurating the Immunoassay Research Center with the specific mission to advance with the design and construction of technologies and formulating strategies for the large-scale detection of different diseases and pathologies.

The hopes deposited in what could be achieved at the newly inaugurated facility were summarized by Fidel when he wrote in the visitors book: "This center is a real jewel for which we feel really proud. Congratulations to all its workers. Our people are expecting a lot from them."

The research institution has the capacity to develop the equipment and the diagnostic techniques and the computer software required for its use; it also provides technical support and assistance to all its clients who use the technologies. Furthermore, it provides supervision to the healthcare programs where they are applied. Its leading products are the SUMA ultramicroanalytic system, and the UMELISA and UMTEST reagents kits used for diagnostic screening purposes.

According to Dr. Fernandez Yero, the founder and director general of the Immunoassay Research Center, the institution now has 28 diagnostic kits available that by means of a network of 194 laboratories installed all along the Cuban archipelago can detect 17 diseases that are linked to various top priority national programs of the Ministry of Public Health, like the Mother and Child program, the Epidemiological Monitoring program and the Blood Safety Certification system.

In the case of the Mother and Child program, since 1986, SUMA technology has made possible to provide for the early detection of congenital hyperthyroidism to all the Cuban children born since that date. Through June 1, 2007, a total of 2,781,149 children had been studied, of which 739 had that pathology at birth. If they hadnt been detected by the screening provided with the SUMA technology test and provided with the medical treatment required by these cases, those children would had developed severe mental retardation due to the low levels of thyroid hormone production (cretinism).

After Canada, Cuba was the second nation of the Americas that provided full coverage of the congenital hypothyroidism detection for newborn babies, something that started in both nations before it was implemented in the United States.

The contributions made by the Immunoassay Research Center have also provided the basis for the national program for the prenatal diagnosis of congenital malformations (between 1982 and the first semester of 2007 3,199,586 pregnant women were subjected to the prenatal diagnostic screening, preventing the birth of 6,880 children with congenital deformities. It was also possible to increase the number of diseases screened in the prenatal research, when during 2005, a series of Immunochemestry Assays corresponding to Congenital Suprarenal Gland Hyperplasia, Galactosemia and Biotinidase Deficiency congenital diseases were incorporated to the screening process.

Because of the nature of the pathologies that are hereditary and affecting the metabolism of the child, if the children born with those congenital diseases are not treated on time, irreparable damages to the quality of life and even death may during the first several weeks after birth.

Dr. Fernandez Yero affirms that the greatest pride of the center, currently comprised of 271 employees, is having done 20 years of scientific research to benefit the people.

The institution save lives, prevents the development of diseases in children, and has brought happiness and tranquility to hundreds of Cuban families. It is impossible to measure the human and social benefits that have been achieved using money as the yardstick.

More than 51 million diagnostic tests have been performed during a 25 year period involving the national healthcare programs that are based on the use of the SUMA Ultramicroanalytic Diagnostic System.

The Blood Certification Program, used at all of the nations blood banks, has prevented the transmission by means of blood of at least 822 cases of HIV-AIDS, 31,381 cases of hepatitis B and 26,967 of hepatitis C. Each and every blood donation is tested by the SUMA diagnostic system.

Each and every pregnant woman is subjected to the tests to find out whether there are congenital malformations of the fetus, if she is a carrier of hepatitis B, or of the HIV-AIDS virus. Thanks to the contributions of the Immunoassay Research Center, mothers who are carriers of the HIV-AIDS virus can give birth to healthy babies because all the required measures were taken to prevent transmission of the virus to the child.

Today there are 578 laboratories equipped with the SUMA technology, of which 11 are in the Peoples Republic of China and the rest are in Latin America, mainly in Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina.

Another screening test developed at the center is the UMELISA PSA, (its name derived from the English language acronym prostate specific antigen) that is used to quantify the specific prostate antigen in the blood of mature men, as a complementary test in the diagnosis of prostate problems, among them prostate cancer that is at this moment the second most important cause of death due to malignant tumors in Cuban men.

By means of an existing coordination with the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, work is now in progress to extend the use of this new diagnostic test at a nationwide level.

Source: Orfilio Peláez, Granma

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