Bioscience at the City of Knowledge

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Researchers from Panama, the United States, Costa Rica and Chile met at the City of Knowledge for the III International Bioinformatics, Biosciences and Bioengineering Symposium (B3) in Panama. INDICASAT AIP, the Technological University of Panama, the University of Costa Rica and the City of Knowledge Foundation organized this third Symposium B3, with the "Science for Medical Innovation" theme, which seeks to promote the incursion of Panama in the field of Bioinformatics, Biosciences and Bioengineering.

One of the objectives of the symposium was to expose local and regional researchers and doctors to new interdisciplinary techniques such as genomics and regenerative medicine. Symposium B3 is creating an educational and research space that serves to promote an innovative environment in Panama, Central America and the Caribbean.

The event also served as the setting for the 2017 B3 Excellence Awards, offered for the scientific achievements of researchers from Panama, Central America and the Caribbean. It is an honorific recognition to highlight their efforts and show their achievements as an example for the region.

Dr. Miguel Pérez Pinzón, Director of the Cerebral Vascular DiseaseResearch Center at the University of Miami and Professor of Neuroscience, received the highest recognition.

What have you been awarded for?

I have been working for more than twenty years in the area of cerebral ischemia and cardiac arrests, and the effects they have on the brain. Studying the pathology and mechanisms with the purpose of discovering some drugs or therapies to protect the brain.

What progress have you experienced with your studies?

The idea is to be able to work with neurologists to see if we can reach some kind of therapy against strokes and cardiac arrests. The process is very long, it is a process where we investigate the basic parts, the mechanisms and what happens with when there’s a heart attack or stroke. In that process, we have discovered certain drugs or ways to protect the brain, and now neurologists are beginning to perform clinical tests to see if they really protect it.

How long can this process take?

The process includes therapies from the laboratory to the clinic, which usually take between 20 to 30 years. Let's say that if a person discovers a drug that can protect the brain we are talking about a very long process because it must be tested in animal models that resemble what one finds in a clinic. It must be tested in different sexes for example and then other laboratories would have to duplicate the studies to prove that the therapy actually works. After this it gets to another level that would require testing in other animals that have brains more similar to us human beings, before taking it to the clinic. Then at the clinical level it is a very long process because we start to test if the drug is safe, if it does not have side effects, if there is no toxicity, etc., which may take 2 or 3 years before we test the effectiveness of it. It is a process that takes at least 20 years of research. Now, we are testing many things at the same time and we have many possibilities at this time. For example, one that we are testing right now is already in the clinic in the tolerance phase.

How does it feel to receive this recognition from colleagues?

Well it's a very big honor, especially being able to return to Panama after so long and collaborating with INDICASAT. And the interesting thing about all this is that we were able to obtain a grant for funds for biomedical research from the NIH (National Institute of Health) of the USA, which represents a very great achievement since we competed with the whole world to obtain it. We are very proud that they gave it to us; to Panama together with the University of Miami. It's a great way to start.

For his part, Dr. Rolando A Gittens, Investigator of INDICASAT AIP, also answered our questions.

How important is this event for science in Panama?

It is extremely important because we are trying to raise awareness about an area of science that has not yet taken off in our country, which is the interdisciplinary sciences such as bioinformatics, bioscience and bioengineering. In that sense for us the most important thing is to recognize what resources we have at the regional level, in Central America, the Caribbean and South America, and invite them to participate at this event and inform the local community of the advances in this field to treat diseases that are chronic or infectious, and to better understand the health of the human being.

How much progress have you noticed now that the third edition of this event is being held?

The organizers are very happy with the assistance that the event has been having from the general public, but also of the interest that the scientific community is having by wanting to participate in the event. On this occasion half of the speakers are foreigners who have come from Chile to the US, and the other half is local representation of the interior and the capital that demonstrate that good science is being done in the country, which is the main message that people are taking with them.

What do we need as a country to continue growing in this area?

I like to focus on the achievements we are having. I believe that today we have to be happy that we are moving in the right direction. Science is being done at a good level although in a certain way in a nuclei and the idea is to connect to become a bigger force. In this sense, I believe that what is needed is economic support from both the public and the private sectors, in order to consolidate groups. That is what the science system of Panama currently needs: that a decision be made where more than 0.1% of the GDP is invested in science and technology since the regional average is 0.6% or 0.7%, and especially knowing that neighboring countries such as Costa Rica and Colombia are above 0.4%. Panama, with its economic growth, should easily be able to justify an investment of a minimum of 0.5% of its GDP in science and technology, which would represent an increase of 4 times more than the budget we currently have.

Why the City of Knowledge for this event?

Without the City of Knowledge this event could not be done. The support we have received from CdS from the logistic point of view has been great, but also from the point of view of connecting decision makers has been critical. Directly, the support of Janelle Castrellón has been fantastic to carry out this event with the attention it needs. But also the City of Knowledge is very important due to the fact that it facilitates mobility. I have been able to talk with the speakers and they are extremely happy with the place, with how easy it is to move and because of the proximity to the Canal, so I think it is a very good example of what Panama is.

Additionally, in this III Symposium B3, 10 high school students from all over the country were chosen to participate in the Young Scientist Program that increased their curiosity and passion for science, especially in the areas of Bioinformatics, Biosciences and Bioengineering.