The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston will embark on a two-year research development program to collaborate with Cuban scientists at the Instituto Pedro Kouri in Havana to better fight infectious diseases, especially in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean regions.
The program, at UTMB’s National Biocontainment Training Center, will develop scientists’ capabilities to work on a range of emerging infectious diseases, such as dengue, Zika and chikungunya.
The $1.3 million agreement will allow UTMB to:
- Work with Cuban scientists to assess the needs for research in Cuba that will benefit the region.
- Train Cuban researchers to safely work with emerging infectious diseases of mutual importance.
- Develop three joint research projects that will bring Cuban scientists to UTMB to train at the National Biocontainment Training Center.
- Advise and train Cuban officials and scientists on how to develop facilities to safely handle high-risk pathogens.
- Improve the diagnostic capabilities of the Instituto Pedro Kouri by training Cuban scientists at UTMB’s assay development core laboratory.
- Work with Cuban scientists to identify three pathogens for collaborative research and vaccine development.
- Develop an exchange program of scientists.
The initiative is being underwritten by The Atlantic Philanthropies, a global foundation established by Chuck Feeney, co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers.
Christopher G. Oechsli, president and CEO of Atlantic, said: “Atlantic has long been engaged in fostering collaboration between the U.S. and Cuba on health issues that affect our two nations and populations globally. This partnership between two leading medical research institutions will build upon that base by focusing on prevention and treatment of real and present threats to regional and global health.”
“UTMB is proud to be in the vanguard of scientists who will lead the fight against diseases that affect both our nations,” said Dr. David L. Callender, president of UTMB.
Dr. Scott Weaver, director of UTMB’s Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, noted that “the recent escalation of Zika virus infections and awareness throughout the Caribbean demonstrates the importance of enhancing infectious disease research and workforce development throughout the region.” Weaver noted that UTMB’s National Biocontainment Training Center has trained hundreds of scientists from UTMB, other laboratories in the U.S. and institutions from 30 countries worldwide.
Dr. David Niesel, chief research officer at UTMB, said that the program with Cuba “begins a scientific chapter of cooperation that will eventually result in Cuban and U.S. scientists being bettered prepared to combat emerging diseases.”
Callender, UTMB’s president, noted that, with the expected increase in commercial air travel and tourism between the U.S. and Cuba, “enhancing the capabilities of scientists in Cuba to prevent and treat diseases is even more important. The value of stronger ties between Texas and Cuba, as exemplified by Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent trip to Cuba, is something UTMB wishes to encourage, particularly when it comes to the health of our populations.”