Development of stem-cell therapies; production of tissues to treat burnt patients or patients complaining of ulcers, and manufacturing of prostheses in orthopedic surgery or cardiology form an integral part of the scientific research conducted by Venezuelan experts. The establishment of laboratories and research centers, together with a public bank of stem cells will make the difference in 2011 in Venezuela
Science has always been among the spoiled ones of technology. In the race for life, scientific researchers have tried everything within their reach to protract the life span and beat diseases.
Through April 2011, the research center of the US Ministry of Health had 158 ongoing studies to heal diseases by means of stem cells. Parkinson, Alzheimer, diabetes, retina disorders, ear problems and cerebral palsy are some diseases near to get treatment.
As a matter of fact, in the late 1980s, research associated with stem cells started. Today, approximately 80 diseases can be treated by means of stem cells. Most of them are linked to blood and immune disorders.
In Venezuela, the use of stem cells is still limited. José Jiménez, a gynecologist-obstetrician and the Medical Director of MaterCell, said that while treatments are marketed for diabetes and Alzheimer, the only scientifically vouched treatment is the use of stem cells instead of bone marrow transplant.
Eight years ago, the first stem cell banks in Venezuela emerged. Forerunners would only collect the stem cells and send them to storage centers in the United States. In 2011, the practice remains unchanged. However, some companies have embarked upon the establishment of stem cell banks in Venezuela. At least six firms are working on it.
Six months ago, the Venezuelan Chamber of Stem Cell Cryopreservation was born. In addition to supplying updated information on authorized therapies in Venezuela, it is set to assist physicians interested in training.
But one of the major contributions of the Chamber will be the establishment of a public stem cell bank. "We are to store samples from people who donate their umbilical cords at hospitals. Each private bank will cover a percentage of these samples and make them available to the Ministry of Health or Fundamédula to be used in treatment of low-income people," Jiménez said.
A new skin
For four years, Francisco Arvelo, full professor at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and a researcher with the Advanced Studies Institute (IDEA) undertook his research on cell culture for development of organs.
By 2012, Arvelo hopes to count on the laboratory of the Human Tissue Engineering Unit and clinically validate the researched procedures over the past years.
Skin production for people with sizeable burns is top in the list of priorities of the research unit. Arvelo explained that from a biopsy of two centimeters of skin, and having worked for 25 days, they are able to reproduce two meters of tissue for transplantation. This technique reduces the chances of tissue rejection experienced in patients treated with the skin of dead people or pigs.
"Also, the method of culture of chondrocytes has been developed for the production of cartilages which will help people with osteoarthritis. Likewise, we want to develop in our laboratory the cornea epithelium for people suffering from deterioration of that tissue," the researcher explained.
Scientific contributions of Venezuelan researchers are by no means falling behind in the field of bioengineering. In 1994, the first steps were taken towards the establishment of the Bioengineering National Institute, engaged in development, design and manufacturing of prostheses and biomedical devices.
"Today, we are the largest institute in Latin America in the field of biomechanics and bio-fluids. Not many people know about it," Miguel Cerrolaza, the director of Inabio, said.
Since 2001, 14 doctors have completed Ph.D. studies and 20 have graduated from master studies. Our goal is increasing the number of expert researchers."
To that end, the inauguration of Inabio headquarters in scheduled soon. The 3,500 square-meter site will host 300 researchers. Three areas will operate there: a research center, the Latin American Graduate Studies of Bioengineering and a business engaged in marketing of the developed prostheses. Last year, the use of these low-cost devices prevented 80 amputations of legs and 20 amputations of arms at the University Hospital Orthopedic Surgery Service.
Translated by Adrián Valera
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.