Cuba’s International Center for Neurological Restoration (CIREN), has a long history in treating patients suffering from diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, epilepsy, ataxia, and dystonia, among others, as well as conducting and applying vital research into the secrets of brain activity.
Despite the country’s economic difficulties, the institution is equipped with modern technology to carry out rigorous biomedical studies, from a molecular level to multidisciplinary approaches to patient care.
The institution is considered to be the leading neuroscientific facility in Latin America – conducting globally renowned research into movement disorders, strokes, brain injuries, and bone marrow conditions, among other diseases.
Comprehensive modern neurological medical services are provided by CIREN’s staff of researchers, clinical analysts, surgeons and teachers.
This renowned center for neuroscience is affiliated with the Cuban Ministry of Public Health and offers two unique therapeutic programs, Neurological Restoration and General Biological Restoration (REBIOGER), stated Dr. Jorge Alberto Bergado Rosado, head of the institution’s Scientific Council, speaking to Granma International.
The facility is organized across various departments: the Basic Area, dedicated to research; Neuro Area, with specialized movement disorder clinics, as well as a division devoted to neurodegenerative diseases and static encephalopathy (permanent or unchanging brain damage).
There is also a clinical neurophysiology laboratory, as well as a Clinical department, offering services related to child neurology and spinomedular injuries; neuromuscular diseases and multiple sclerosis and a neurosurgery division. “We were the first institution in Cuba to introduce the practice of neurotransplantation, a pioneering surgical technique to treat Parkinson’s,” explains Bergado also head researcher at the facility.
“In the field of functional neurosurgery we introduced a procedure based on subthalamic nucleus modulation. We have performed over 1,000 of these operations on patients suffering from Parkinson’s, all will excellent results.
It doesn’t cure the condition, but does improve the patient’s motor functions and quality of life.”
The Center offers a range of neurological restoration treatments such as pharmacological, surgical and rehabilitation therapies, within a general program designed for each condition, which are then tailored to the patient’s specific needs, explains the Cuban scientist, adding that “We design a treatment plan based on the severity of the disease, patient’s condition, age, recovery expectations and other necessary considerations, gradually completing the plan by applying different curative methods.”
Among other areas, the doctor notes that at CIREN, research is being conducted into the use of stem-cells to treat stroke patients while investigations into surgical procedures to treat refractory or drug-resistant epilepsy are also being carried out.
Services at the institution are provided by multidisciplinary teams, led by a neurologist and composed of a wide range of specialists including family doctors, pediatricians, physiotherapists, physical rehabilitation technicians, physiologists, nurses, speech and language therapists, dietitians, chiropodists and dentists.
CIREN currently has a staff of 616 employees, 321 of whom are university graduates while 99 are pre-university level technicians. Of these, there are eight senior, 19 auxiliary and 25 research assistants; there is also an important team of 18 teachers responsible for training new specialists at the center, together with 37 professors who lead under and postgraduate studies across different specialties.
CIREN is constantly undertaking collaborative research projects and exchanges with institutions and professionals from countries such as the United States, Britain, Spain, Mexico, Germany, Italy and Canada, among others. For example, researcher Bergado Rosado notes that joint specialized studies into autism are currently being conducted with Brazilian institutions.
He also highlights the negative impact of the illegal economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the United States on the island’s collaborative efforts, commenting that individuals and institutions willing to work with Cuba feel the pressure of the unjust policy, making it difficult for them to send technology, money and organize academic exchanges.
“A Puerto Rican researcher wanted to donate laboratory equipment. Given blockade restrictions it is impossible to ship anything from the nearby country directly to Cuba. Thanks to the support of the solidarity group Cuba Sí based in Germany, the equipment was sent to that country and then re-shipped to the Caribbean,” explains Bergado Rosado.
Founded by the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro on February 26, 1989, CIREN has provided in and outpatient treatments to 130,000 people from 94 countries worldwide, a large percentage of them Cubans.
Ana Luisa Leyva Jorge who works in the facility’s canteen clearly remembers the day CIREN was founded: “I saw a convoy of cars on the corner of 25th and 158th streets, I guessed a leader of the Revolution had arrived and so I made my way to the reception area. That’s when I saw the impressive figure [Fidel] enter, with his olive green uniform and insignia denoting his ranks as Comandante en Jefe. He greeted all of the workers, and gave me a hug and we spoke briefly. The experience filled me with motivation to do my job.”
She noted that she enjoys working with the renowned scientists who are friendly to all staff, treat everyone with respect, and recognize the important work carried out by those not working within the scientific departments.
This sentiment is shared by the young Mei Li Díaz Hung, who is currently studying for her PhD, and began working at CIREN at the start of her second year of Biochemistry, later graduating and going on to receive her masters in 2013.
The scientist notes that “my research led me to work with a neuroscience school in Canada, where I met other scientists from the Autonomous University of Mexico. Last year we began a collaborative project and from March to April 2015, I worked at the Oxidative Stress Laboratory in Mexico where I learned about various molecular research techniques, made great progress in my investigation, which is going toward my doctorate.
Neurological rehabilitation specialist and Physical Education graduate Lena Herrera Nuviola mentions that the center offers employees ample opportunities to take specialist courses and participate in scientific events, especially CIREN’s International Neurological Restoration Conference, which takes place every five years.
The young scientist says that she increasingly treats children and recalls a family from Belarus, whose son proved difficult during treatment sessions. Only with his parents nearby would the child become more settled. However, Herrera was able to gain his trust by treating him with kindness, affection and talking to him, although he didn’t understand a word of Spanish. “After several days of sessions he stayed with me alone and we achieved the miracle of enabling him to walk,” she states.
Able to attest to the center’s effective treatment are out patients Roberto Machado Navarro, Rolando Díaz Rosales and Armando Quiñones Machado, who attend the gym six hours a day, to receive movement improvement therapy.
The gym has physiotherapy, general conditioning, movement and massage areas, a workout space including a variety of running machines to help with mobility exercises, rooms for speech and language treatment, neuropsychology, an area for holistic medicine, another for ozone therapy as well as a nursing support station.
The children’s gym includes physical rehabilitation, speech and language, and neuropsychology areas all specializing in neuro-pediatric care.
The center’s various attributes are typified by the words spoken by Fidel during the inauguration of the facility: “The center has special features, as it brings together research, diagnostic and surgical areas in a single center under a single leadership, so that in Cuba there will not be this divergence that sometimes exists, including conflicts and contradictions between different research, after conducting thorough investigations and applying the results.”