Tuesday, November 29, 2016

#SOL16: If Only We Had Been Talking with Cuba


It's been several minutes that I have been staring at the same article, "20 Best medical Breakthroughs of 2016," in the recent issue of Prevention Magazine. Staring at the same words for breakthrough #3. Staring so hard, the words blur. The meaning however remains clear.

from December 2016 issue of Prevention Magazine, p. 51


A vaccine that "targets the cancer's fuel source" has been used in Cuba since 2011--well before Rob's cancer had either started or prior to it progressing. In 2012, Rob had a lung x-ray to diagnose pneumonia. It showed a small smudge. We learned about the x-ray when it was discovered that Rob had cancer in August 2015.  We know now that the smudge in the apex of his right lung would likely become a cancerous tumor if it was not already at that time. The cancerous tumor was found only in Rob's right lung (apex).  He never had another x-ray until August of 2015.

In another article (from here) I read:
CIMAvax triggers the immune system to produce antibodies that target and sequester EGF, or epidermal growth factor. Lung cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in particular, tend to overproduce receptors for the peptide growth factor.

On March 14, 1958--before I was born--when Rob was just three, the United States imposed an arms embargo on Cuba.  This was followed two years later with economic and financial sanctions. These limitations remained in place until Congress ended the travel embargo in 2010 and when President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations in 2015.  These actions paved the way for U.S. researchers to make the trip to Cuba in April 2015--five months before Rob received the diagnosis of Stage 4 small cell lung cancer.  The result of that visit is that last month the U.S. approved clinical trials for CIMAvax.

The clinical studies will be conducted with patients having stage IIIB to stage IV non-small cell lung cancer and begin with a Phase 1 dose-escalation study to determine the best dose and injection frequency for the vaccine.
The vaccine is said to be more effective with those younger than 60. In 2012, Rob would have turned 57 at the end of the year. He was 60 when he was diagnosed. 

Rob taking a picture of a sculpture made from cigarettes in March, 2012 at MASS MOCA.


So why didn't U.S. researchers have access to this breakthrough vaccine?  What did our embargo stop? Nell Patel in Wired, writes, 
The 55-year trade embargo led by the US made sure that Cuba was mostly where it stayed. 
Mostly where it stayed.
Borders and boundaries.

Tonight,  I am wishing we had open borders or at the very least, free scientific exchanges among researchers. Who knows how many lives, like Rob's, might have been prolonged, if not saved had we allowed scientists to learn from one another.


  1. This is why we fight for open lines of communication between all human beings. We need each other. I'm sorry this adds insult to your injury--so to speak. Heartbreaking.

  2. Me too. Here's to hoping that we more borders open even with darkness heading our way.

  3. We hurt ourselves with our fear of the world. As Kimberley said, we need each other.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.