Friday, 25 June 2010

The Power of Persistence or the Story of a Venezuelan scientist

Scientist Jacinto Convit does not want to retire too young. He is just 98 years old and he feels he can give a lot more of his time to science. I met him when my parents took me as a child to a fascinating presentation he was giving to the public in my hometown.

When Convit was a young physician, leper patients were put into chains and sent to very isolated colonies with guards. They were treated as the worst of the world. This scientist dedicated a lot of time treating those patients and giving them better conditions. Convit, together with 6 other Venezuelan and 2 Italian doctors, started to perform experiments on the Chaulmogra oil, which was known as a palliative. They managed to identify the role of clofazimine and other components in the Mycobacterium leprae and this lead to their development of a vaccine. Lepra colonies are a thing of the past.

The team produced this vaccine by combining a tuberculosis vaccin with the bacterium Mycobacterium Leprae. Convit also developed a vaccine against a terrible parasite disease common in tropical and sub-tropical regions, Leishmaniasis.

Mr Convit has been nominated to the Nobel Prize for his work against leprosy. He got the Prince of Asturias Awards for Science Research in 1987 and the Premio de México de Ciencia in 1990.

Now he said at an interview he is carrying out experiments on human patients for a vaccine that is supposed to fight mammal and colon cancer and "so far, so good". The details of that article are still very vague, but I will try to find more about them as soon as I can.

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