Medical researcher from Wilkes-Barre: Sharing info with Cuba can save lives

5-25-15  by Geraldine  Gibbons

Nichol Holodick, right, discusses her work with her mentor, Dr. Thomas Rothstein.

Submitted Photo Nichol Holodick, right, discusses her work with her mentor, Dr. Thomas Rothstein.

To Nichol Holodick, the opportunity to share information globally means more than just higher quality communication, it’s an opportunity to save lives.

Holodick, a medical researcher, recently travelled to Cuba where, because of a U.S. trade embargo, medical professionals have been denied access to U.S. medical information and supplies. Nonetheless, the small impoverished nation off Florida’s southernmost point has built a quality public healthcare system.

That system, she said, has now yielded information that is anticipated to be of great benefit to the United States.

Holodick, employed by the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, said two previous trips to Cuba provided her with further understanding of just how essential communication among scientists is.

“Research builds on research,” she said, “so to work together in a global environment of communication provides opportunity for the best results.”

Holodick, whose research has centered around B-1 cells, a specific white blood cell that make proteins called antibodies that help fight bacterial and viral infections, is returning to Cuba in June.

She said last month’s agreement between Roswell Park Cancer Institute and a Cuban biotechnology institute to conduct clinical trials on a vaccine for lung cancer was a move in the right direction, but was not directly related to her current work.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the vaccine, Cimavax, isn’t a cure, but simply stimulates the body to produce antibodies against a protein that causes cancerous cells to grow. It has been touted as far less toxic than chemotherapy and as having the ability to prolong a patient’s life by as long as six months.

In the past, these collaborative efforts would not have been possible. For more than 50 years, the U.S. trade embargo prohibited federally funded American scientists from working with scientists in Cuba.

In December, President Barack Obama loosened trade restrictions with Cuba, paving the way for the increased joint medical research projects.

Holodick looks forward to continuing efforts between the two countries, backed by both funding and good medical science, to facilitate future medical advances beneficial to both.

Her love for research was fueled, at least in part, by a few years spent as a student in Wilkes-Barre Area School District’s Kistler Elementary School. After high school graduation, she went on to study biology at Northeastern University in Boston and to earn a Ph.D. in immunology at Boston University.

Her parents, Richard Holodick and Linda Scavone, of Wilkes-Barre, are proud of their daughter’s accomplishments in a field in which Richard Holodick called the scientific work “a laudable humanitarian effort.”

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