AAASNEWS&NOTES EDITED BY KATHY WREN
HAVANA, CUBA—In an elegant meeting room
of the 84-year-old Hotel Nacional, where mobsters and movie stars once rubbed shoulders
with intellectuals and heads of state, the leaders of AAAS and the Cuban Academy of
Sciences this month signed a landmark agreement to advance scientific cooperation by
Cuban and U.S. scientists in key areas of
mutual interest to both countries.
The signing of the memorandum of understanding followed 2 days of meetings between
a AAAS-organized group and a broad assortment of scientists and physicians across
Havana. The group also met with the Chief
of Mission of the U.S. Interests Section there,
who expressed his support for the visit.
“This trip was a wonderful opportunity
to reinvigorate the long-standing friendship
between U.S. and Cuban scientists and to form
a specific plan of action,” said AAAS President
Gerald Fink, who is also a professor of biology
at the Whitehead Institute at MIT.
The memorandum identifies four areas in
the life sciences where AAAS and the Cuban
Academy of Sciences will seek opportunities
for sustained cooperation: emerging infectious
diseases, brain disorders, cancer, and antimi-
crobial drug resistance.
Merely 45 minutes from Miami by plane,
Cuba is a natural choice for scientific partnerships with the United States. The country has
committed a large amount of its resources to its
scientific, medical, and public health systems,
including a hardy biotechnology industry that
exports a number of vaccines, antibody-based
drugs, and other biomedical technologies.
While greater longevity is typically associated with wealthier populations, life expectancy
in Cuba rivals that in the United States. “Cuban
people live as poor people but die as rich people,” said Luís Herrera Martínez, director general of the Center for Genetic Engineering and
Biotechnology in Havana. Cuba could thus be
fertile ground for research on aging populations
and the diseases that affect them, such as cancer
or age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
The Cubans are also well positioned to
detect emerging infectious diseases of concern
to the United States, such as dengue and chikun-
gunya, serious mosquito-borne viral diseases for
which no vaccines exist. Officials at the Herma-
nos Ameijeiras hospital in Havana told the U.S.
group that Cuba has already implemented sur-
veillance measures for chikungunya, which has
just turned up in the Caribbean in recent months.
The virus is spreading rapidly in the region, rais-
ing fears among U.S. public health experts that it
may soon make an appearance in the U.S.
The obstacles to scientific collaboration
are formidable, however. The Cuban economy, which crashed after the dissolution of the
Soviet Union, is still faltering despite modest
economic reforms in recent years. And, in addition to blocking U.S. federal research funding from reaching Cuban scientists, the U.S.
embargo has imposed other constraints on the
scientific enterprise. Throughout the visit, several researchers voiced frustration that U.S.
researchers could not attend most of the scientific meetings that take place in Cuba.
While the effects of the diplomatic impasse
between Cuba and the United States largely
will require political solutions, the agreement
between AAAS and the Cuban Academy of
Sciences signals a joint desire for scientific
cooperation to move forward.
“In spite of existing political differences, scientists can always get together and talk. With this
signing, we are providing support for communities dealing with very similar problems,” said Sergio Jorge Pastrana, foreign secretary and executive director of the Cuban Academy of Sciences.
The AAAS group included Alan I. Leshner,
chief executive officer of AAAS and executive
publisher of Science; Peter Agre, Nobel laureate
and past president of AAAS; Vaughan Turekian,
AAAS’ chief international officer; and several
other scientists and policy experts.
–KATH Y WREN
AAAS Signs Historic Agreement
with Cuban Academy of Sciences
Partners in science. At the Cuban Academy of
Sciences headquarters, Alan I. Leshner, Gerald
Fink, Ismael Clark Arxer, president of the CAS,
and Sergio Jorge Pastrana stand before a sculpture of the famous Cuban scientist Carlos Finlay.
(Above) A street scene outside Havana.