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New study group will seek to reconcile recent biotechnology and traditional medicine

by Richard Meckien - published Dec 17, 2018 03:55 PM - - last modified Jan 17, 2019 11:27 AM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Victor Matioli.

Transplante de fígado
Silvano Raia believes that the compatibility of methods is more urgent in the area of transplants

IEA-USP's Board approved the creation of a study group on Recent Therapeutic Biotechnology and Traditional Medicine during their 190th meeting, held on December 12. The proposal had been submitted by physician Silvano Raia, a professor at the School of Medicine (FM-USP), who will coordinate the group. The deputy coordinator will be geneticist Mayana Zatz, a professor at the Institute of Biosciences (IB-USP).

According to the project, the aim of the group is "to discuss the compatibility of new therapeutic methods based on recent biotechnology with traditional medicine's therapeutic methods, focusing on ethical, religious, legal and medical aspects." The group's activities are scheduled for the 2019/20 biennium.

Raia, who conducted the first liver transplant in Latin America in 1985, argues that the harmony between methods is most urgently needed in the area of transplants.


According to him, the good results obtained with organ transplants in recent years have created an unattainable demand for the health system, which can not handle the increasingly long queues. The development of the living-donor transplant has remedied the organ shortage, but did not bring the definitive solution, since the transplant often causes the death of the donor.

One of the most serious cases, says Raia, is waiting for kidney transplants. "In Brazil, in 2017, 150,000 patients were on dialysis, of which 21,059 were indicated for transplants," stated the doctor in the presentation document of the group. "Of these, 1,176 died for lack of organs." Raia also recalled that only in the last year dialysis patients cost two billion reais to the Unified Health System (SUS).

Silvano Raia
Silvano Raia

In an attempt to overcome the shortage of transplanted kidneys, Zatz and Raia conduct a project to enable kidney xenotransplantation at USP's Center for Human Genome and Stem Cell Studies (CEGH-Cel). The method consists of the use of swine organs in transplants in humans. According to Raia, the rejection of the organ can be prevented through genetic engineering, specifically by the CRISPR-Cas9 method.

Raia states that the procedure would be capable of "radically altering the scenario of solid organ transplants in Brazil and abroad." However, he points out that the use of animal organs in humans will prompt ethical, religious, legal and medical discussions in society. "Efforts will have to be directed towards reconciling this new approach with the principles of traditional medicine," he says. "It is this compatibility that is being addressed by the future study group."


Members and methodology

In addition to the coordinators, the group will have four other permanent members, namely geneticist Maria Rita dos Santos e Passos Bueno, a professor at the IB-USP, and physicians Jorge Elias Kalil Filho, a professor at FM-USP, Rodrigo Vianna, a professor at the University of Miami, and Jorge Alberto Costa e Silva, president of the Brazilian Brain Institute (INBRACER).

Mayana Zatz
Mayana Zatz

Five collaborating researchers will also be part of the group: Luiz Carlos de Caires Júnior, Ernesto da Silveira Goulart Guimarães and Luciano Abreu Brito, all from the IB-USP, Fr. Mário Marcelo Coelho, a zoologist and PhD-holder in moral theology from the Accademia Alfonsiana, and Roberto Romano da Silva, a professor at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP).

The activities will be developed through bimonthly meetings and semiannual thematic seminars, which will have an expanded audience and invited experts. In the presentation document, the group demonstrates interest in developing a research project that will be submitted to development agencies "in order to strengthen the activities and production of the study group".

In addition, the group assignments include the delimitation of subtopics and topics to be discussed, a survey on bibliographic references and specialists who can contribute with the addressed subjects, and the elaboration of a term of reference to guide each of the thematic seminars. The group also showed interest in developing their activities concomitantly with those that have been carried out at the National Academy of Medicine (ANM). According to Raia, who is also a member of the ANM, parallel studies have already been approved by the Academy's board of directors at a meeting held on March 22, 2018.

Photo 1: Gabriel Borda / Flickr
Photos 2 and 3: Victor Matioli / IEA-USP