The Cuban Academy of Sciences visits Washington, DC

The Cuban Academy of Sciences visits Washington, DC

The Cuban delegation traveling to the capital, from left to right, Luis Velasquez Pérez, Olga Fernández Ríos, Roberto Rodríguez Labrada, Axel Hidalgo Mayo and Roberto Leon Castellón. Credit: AAAS

One year after signing a renewed memorandum of understanding with the Cuban Academy of Sciences in Havana, the American Association for American Sciences hosted a Cuban delegation in Washington, D.C.

The delegation, headed by Luis Velasquez Pérez, President of the Cuban Academy, and Dr. Olga Fernandez Ríos, Vice President of the Academy and Minister of Foreign Affairs, included three young members of the Academy. During their visit in October, which was supported by the Richard Lounsbury Foundation, the delegation participated in an event on U.S.-Cuba scientific cooperation at the headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, visited the National Institutes of Health and met with key science policy leaders.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has led delegations to Cuba since 1997 in an effort to build bridges between the American and Cuban scientific communities. In 2014, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Cuban Academy formalized their partnership with a memorandum of understanding, which was updated in 2022.

AAAS and the Cuban Academy aim for sustainable cooperation

The American Association for the Advancement of Science hosted representatives from the diplomatic community, the U.S. government, and non-governmental communities for a panel discussion on U.S.-Cuban scientific cooperation and a reception.

Gilda Barabino, Chair of the AAAS Board of Directors and President of the Olin College of Engineering, gave welcome remarks and spoke about the accomplishments of the professional meeting held in March 2023 in Havana. Introduced by Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS and Executive Publisher of Sciences Magazines family, who co-led the last two AAAS delegations to Cuba with Barabino.

“We need science experts, science policy and government leaders to work together to ensure we build the scientific enterprise of the future to effectively address the global challenges we face today and those we have not yet imagined,” Parikh said. “This includes maintaining and building peer-to-peer relationships between countries, such as the United States and Cuba.”

Three people are sitting on chairs and one person is on the podium on the stage
Event at AAAS headquarters. From left to right, Kim Montgomery, Gilda Barabino, Luis Velasquez Perez, and Sudip Parikh. Credit: AAAS.

Parikh spoke alongside Velasquez Pérez, who addressed the common challenges facing the United States and Cuba “Our countries need to work together to address the common societal challenges we face – from dengue to aging. The Cuban Academy of Sciences is excited to work with its partner AAAS to build bridges and strengthen cooperation between the Cuban and American scientific communities.”

Barrick and Velasquez Pérez stressed their shared interest in building relations between the next generation of scientific leaders in both countries, as evidenced by the inclusion of young people affiliated with the Cuban Academy in their delegation to the capital.

Historic visit to the National Institutes of Health

While in D.C., the Cuban delegation spoke about Cuba’s strengths in public health and explored common interests with the U.S. research ecosystem. The group received a warm welcome at the National Institutes of Health, which has hosted a Cuban delegation on its Bethesda campus only three times before.

Six people stand at the Vaccine Research Center at NIAID
Delegation members tour the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Credit: Marilyn van den Neste/National Institutes of Health.

“This meeting confirmed what I experienced during my visit to Cuba: that Cuban health researchers have demonstrated great ingenuity and perseverance in solving urgent public health needs,” said Jane Marrazo, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who visited Cuba. Cuba in 2022 to evaluate the development, testing and distribution of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

Marrazzo’s team was the first to meet the delegation during its one-day visit to the National Institutes of Health, where they toured the institute’s Vaccine Research Center and met with representatives from other institutes. The visit to NIH was facilitated by Joelle Calle Dominick, director of the institute’s Office of Global Research, who was part of a delegation led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science that traveled to Cuba in March to brainstorm areas for collaboration on public health and environmental issues.

“As classic ‘tropical’ infectious diseases such as dengue, malaria, and chikungunya virus expand northward, the United States is increasingly sharing exposure to conditions in which Cuban scientists have extensive experience,” Marrazo noted. “Two-way dialogue on these massive issues can enrich our collective ability to combat these growing threats.”

After meeting with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Cuban scientists were hosted by the Fogarty International Center, which builds partnerships between health research institutions in the United States and abroad. The Center facilitated meetings with representatives from other National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute of Mental Health. Velasquez Pérez, a neuroscientist who has published widely on a genetic disorder known as hereditary ataxia, provided an overview of Cuba’s public health priorities and highlighted U.S.-Cuba research collaborations ranging from neuroscience to breast cancer.

During his interactions with the Cuban delegation, Peter Kilmarks, acting director of the Fogarty Center, was able to learn more about the island’s strong scientific ecosystem, in particular their extensive networks in medical genetics and molecular biology.

NIH, ACC, and AAAS staff at the Bethesda campus of the NIH
Attendance at meetings between the Cuban delegation and representatives of the National Institutes of Health. Credit: Fogarty International Center/National Institutes of Health.

“Cuban scientists have advanced research and development in infectious disease research and vaccines, especially with regard to arboviruses, and cancer treatment. Both countries could benefit from strengthening research partnerships in these and other areas,” said Kilmarks.

The visit to the National Institutes of Health was of particular interest to two Cuban Academy partners given their backgrounds in health research: Roberto Rodríguez Labrada, deputy director of the Cuban Center for Neuroscience (CNEURO), and Roberto León Castellón, also a neurologist who works as a neurologist. Researcher at Hermanos Ameigueras Hospital in Havana.

Climate and health

A recurring theme during the Cuban delegation’s meetings at the National Institutes of Health and with other stakeholders in DC was the relationship between health and climate change, especially the impact of climate on health.

Seven people from NOAA, ACC and AAAS sit around a table in an office
A meeting between the Cuban Academy delegation and representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Credit: AAAS.

The delegation met with representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which signed three memorandums of understanding with the Cuban government on marine protected areas, maritime navigation safety, and weather and climate. A member of the Cuban delegation, Axel Hidalgo Mayo, is a senior researcher at the Meteorological Institute in Holguin, Cuba.

“NOAA shares many of the same goals and priorities in the oceans and atmosphere,” said Elizabeth McClanahan, director of NOAA’s Office of International Affairs. “At NOAA, we believe that sharing scientific information through bilateral cooperation, as is the case with Cuba, is of paramount importance for improving decision-making,” she stressed.

During this meeting, the Cuban Academy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spoke about ocean management and how to better predict and respond to extreme weather events.

“Cuba has a great deal of knowledge and experience in these areas, which contributes to our shared commitment to sustainable marine management, scientific understanding, and the safety of life, persons and property,” McClanahan added.

While in D.C., the delegation also visited the National Academy of Sciences, where they heard from National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt, and exchanged ideas with directors of the Departments of Global Affairs, Health and Medicine, as well as the Gulf Research Program on future collaborations. In addition, they had the opportunity to meet early-career researchers with similar interests during a visit to George Washington University.

“AAAS looks forward to continuing collaboration with the Cuban Academy of Sciences in the coming years and using the common language of science to reach across borders and meet the challenges of our time,” said Kim Montgomery, AAAS Director of International Affairs and Science. Diplomacy.

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