Cuba has always been known for its medical treatment. The Cubans have much higher life expectancy than the American citizens despite spending a pittance comparatively. Today, Cuba is to make a real breakthrough in combating cancer.
Cuban scientists spent decades developing a lung cancer vaccine, called Cimavax. The Cuban government started distributing Cimavax to citizens for free in 2011. The vaccine targets a protein called epidermal growth factor, which cancerous cells generate in order to signal others to grow out of control.
“Investigators from around the world are trying to crack the nut of cancer. The Cubans are thinking in ways that are novel and clever.” states biologist Thomas Rothstein.
Lung cancer accounts for about 27% of all cancer deaths and is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Overall, the chance that a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime is about 1 in 13; for a woman, the risk is about 1 in 16. With such shocking statistics, this vaccine has the potential to be an absolute breakthrough.
Though the vaccine doesn’t target the tumor itself, the vaccine can make even a late-stage tumor manageable; experiments in 2008 showed lung cancer patients that received the vaccine lived four to six months longer on average than those that didn’t. This efficacy inspired some European countries and Japan to start clinical trials of their own, progress on which the US had been woefully behind thanks to icy diplomatic relations with Cuba.
But the States have been forced to accelerate plans to bury the hatchet after the vaccine proved its worth. Now researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York have made an agreement with their Cuban counterparts to start clinical trials of the vaccine.
The Roswell Park researchers are also to evaluate the vaccine as a possible method of prevention, like a typical vaccine, and to see if it works with other types of cancer that used the same protein.
The Cuban scientists want to make it into a more traditional vaccine, like one for measles or mumps, which would prevent lung cancer in people for life.
Although President Obama has used his executive power to lift some restrictions against medical and research equipment, Congress must lift the Cuban embargo before collaborative research can ramp up.
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