sábado, 18 de junio de 2011

A big step for Science, a huge step for Argentina

Claudio Pairoba
Dr. Claudio Fernández and his research team at the IBR

Claudio Fernández returned to Argentina in 2006 with a clear goal in mind: to continue his research on neurodegenerative disorders in the country where he was born, grew up and studied.

A graduate from the University of Buenos Aires, Fernández is a Biochemist, Pharmacist and PhD from that institution. After spending more than 10 years doing research at different international laboratories, including the world renowned Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, Fernández decided it was time for him to go back to Argentina. The task ahead was not a minor one: to set up a state of the art laboratory in a country that has distinguished itself academically and in the scientific research field (three Argentinean researchers were awarded Nobel Prizes) but has also been struggling to recover from several decades of uncertain scientific policies and military governments.

A Nuclear Magnetic Resonance equipment, one of the key tools Fernández and his team use to carry out his research, was provided by the National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology and the National Council of Scientific and Technological Research from Argentina (both dependent from the national government). This was the kickoff for Fernández’s voyage back home, to the city of Rosario in the province of Santa Fe.

Fernández is currently working at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology of Rosario. He and his team have continued to publish scientific papers in top science journals. The most recent elucidates the interaction between molecules of the protein α-sinuclein to produce insoluble aggregates that lead to neuron malfunction, a mechanism underlying the development of several neurodegenerative disorders.

But the good news faced new challenges. The development of new drugs required a 5-million dollar investment, which was prohibitive in terms of economic resources. The Argentinean pharmaceutical business was not interested and those who were interested were not Argentinean. Fernández received a tempting offer: returning to Germany and getting funding for the next step of his research project: drug development.
It would be a road definitely easy to follow but not the one Fernández had in mind. As a graduate from the public university system, he feels responsible for contributing to society in return for the opportunity society gave him: to study at the university tuition-free.

After knocking on many doors, giving countless interviews and calling every influential person he could get ahold of, that is, showing people what he was doing, he has finally received the much needed political and institutional support. As a result of this, the national and provincial governments as well as the National University of Rosario will join efforts to build a new center where an interdisciplinary team will do the research and design of new drugs aimed at treating neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Not only that: this effort paves the way for the discovery of new drugs and the subsequent patent applications in Argentina, with all their obvious implications.

Fernández´s story is a clear example that excellent scientific research and valuable results are undoubtedly required but not enough if a country is to grow based on science. Researchers who are devoted to communicate their research to politicians, government officials, the media and society in general are equally needed.

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