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Cuba and its partnership to prevent brain diseases

Dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases are currently considered a health priority. It is estimated that, by the middle of the century, between 115 and 135 million people will suffer from some form of brain-related disease.


  Ana Laura Arbesú


There are several factors that have led to its rise and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the main causes is an ageing population due to the increase in life expectancy, especially in higher-income countries.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia: it is estimated to account for between 60% and 70% of cases, according to data from the UN organisation.

These diseases have a physical, psychological, social and economic impact, not only on the people that suffer from them, but also on their carers, families and society in general. There are currently several global projects that are dedicated to the study of the brain and its diseases, which require very high levels of funding.

Scientists themselves believe that, given the emergency and the extent of the research, which seeks to investigate in detail the structure and functions of the human brain through advanced neuroimaging equipment, each study must share their data.

Since 2017, Cuba, a small country with limited financial resources, has been part of a tri-national project, together with China and Canada, which is focused on finding, comparing, examining and recording data.

Each of the countries has given funding to support the joint research that is planned over the next three years, which has been provided by the Quebec Science Fund, the National Science Foundation of China and Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, through the Science and Technological Innovation Fund.

After two years of research, the project has already delivered its first results to create a common data centre. Canada has provided five petabytes of data and they already have neuroimages of around four thousand people from eight countries.

With a similar situation to that of the developed world due to its high life expectancy indexes (78.9 years on average), the island’s health authorities approved the Brain Dysfunction and Brain Mapping programme in late 2018, which seeks to achieve better diagnosis of the diseases.

The idea is to find a better prevention strategy, the Cuban scientist Pedro Valdés, who has led the Cuban Brain Mapping Project since 1990, explains to THR.

Valdés shared his views about the concept of global precision brain health, a preventive strategy to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

It is a new health approach, as was human genome sequencing, which broke new ground in life sciences.

In this case, precision health aims to use genetic markers to predict when a person is more at risk of developing the disease, as well as choose better treatment and follow-up treatment of the disease, based on analysis and research about the genome, brain connections and the personal experiences of each individual.

However, the concept is used by the developed world with a different vision: as precision medicine for rich countries.

We must address the matter from two points of view, explains Valdés. The first is that it cannot be a project of the elite. It must be for large populations. We are not interested in people having medicine, but people being healthy, which is thus a broader concept.

“When we use medicine, it’s because we are facing a disease and the approach is global health”, he highlighted.

According to the scientist, who is also an honorary member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, the role of the island’s scientific community in studies of the brain is to contribute knowledge.

“We don’t have the financial resources, but we do have the intellectual resources, the strength of our universities, as well as a health system whose fundamental principle is prevention work based on the family doctor programme”, he says. (PL)

(Translated by Rachel Hatt – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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