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The story of interferon is also the story of the beginnings of biotechnology in Cuba...beginnings originating from Texans (R. Lee Clark, M.D.) who traveled from MD Anderson Hospital in Houston to Havana in November, 1980. (Texas has a long historical relationship with Cuba). These Texans told Cuban scientists and politicians "interferon was the future". Biotechnology was embraced by Cuba as a way to develop national revenues other than revenues arising from commodities. Drs. Manuel Limonta and Victoria Ramirez visited Houston, then traveled afterwards to Helsinki, Finland to study procedures and techniques under the watchful eye of Dr. Kari Cantell. Although interferon was discovered and named by Isaacs and Lindenmann at London's National Institute for Medical Research in the late 1950s, production of commercial quantities of interferon for sale was a primary goal of Cuba's biotechnology efforts.
Interferon is generated by mammals as a response to injury, especially by the presence of infectious agents. Interferon induces an enzyme, 2',5' oligoadenylate synthetase, which activates RNaseL. Nonspecific degradation of RNA, including messenger RNA of infecting agents, and inhibition of protein synthesis (Protein kinase is activated phosphorylating translation initiation factor eIF2 alpha, leading to inhibition of translation). In contrast to small interfering RNA, Antisense RNA, and Ribozyme, neither response from interferon is specific for the nucleotide sequence of its inducing/target mRNA.
Cuba harvested its first lot of high quality interferon in May, 1981. Cuba used its interferon during a 1981 dengue epidemic to decrease morbidity and mortality in children infected with the Flavivirus. Today, Cuba uses interferon domestically and exports interferon to other countries for its use in a variety of disease conditions.
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