This article focuses on Grenada’s potential as a medical research hub with cutting edge projects to seek cures for major diseases; according to the author t has the potential of leading the way to cures and becoming a medical “free trade zone.”
[. . .] Perhaps Grenada’s most unique feature is its medical school, which has grown from a few hundred students thirty years ago to some 4,000 students today, from 140 countries. [. . .] Grenada has all that one would expect from a tropical vacation destination; the waters are bright blue, the beaches are pristine, the cliffs are spectacularly steep, and the hilly land is a lush and verdant green. And yet perhaps the most unique feature of the island is the medical school, which has grown from a few hundred students thirty years ago to some 4,000 students today, from 140 countries.
Indeed, under the leadership of its founder, Chancellor Charles Modica, St. George’s University has expanded to include four different schools–medicine, veterinary medicine, arts and sciences, and a graduate student program; the sprawling $250 million campus is the largest employer on the island. [. . .] Yet St. George’s is also a resource to the world. Since Grenada is closer to South America than North America, and relatively closer to Africa, St. George’s has made the most of its global-south-oriented location; the school has a major academic partnership, for example, with the African nation of Botswana.
[. . .] Meanwhile, St. George’s itself has carved out a niche in the study of tropical diseases. In Grenada and much of the Caribbean, a significant percentage of the population is infected with Human T-Lymphotropic Virus type I. In most people, HTLV-1 is asymptomatic, the virus just going along for the ride. But in some cases, HTLV-1 nestles in the spinal cord and causes progressive loss of motor control in the legs, affecting other bodily functions as well. HTLV-1 is also extensive, we might note, in parts of North and South America, as well as Africa, the Middle East, the Philippines, and even Japan.
HTLV-1 is, in fact, a kind of virological cousin to the dreaded HIV/AIDS, and so as part of its ongoing research efforts, St. George’s invited Dr. Robert Gallo, the co-discoverer of the HIV/AIDS virus back in the 80s–and before that, the HTLV family of viruses in the 70s–to speak at the school on February 12. Gallo addressed some 1,000 students and members of the St. George’s community, surveying recent epidemiological history. He recalled that the 20th century witnessed three great epidemics, all due to viruses, or more precisely, RNA viruses. [. . .] The third epidemic was HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which, when it developed into AIDS, has killed some 30 million. Yet thanks to the vision of Gallo and others, treatments for HIV/AIDS have been created that saved many millions of lives–although, even so, in 2011, the disease killed 20,000 Americans and another 1.7 million around the world. [. . .] Gallo summed up his experience in these crisp words: “The campus here is beautiful, the people are kind, and the students are on fire.”
[. . .] Moreover, Gallo points to evidence that many other illnesses–from arthritis to autism to bi-polarity to diabetes–could have a viral component. That is, viral infection at an early age could have a slow, persistent, and cumulative effect on the body. And virus nexus could be the story, too, of many different kinds of auto-immune diseases, from gluten intolerance to lupus to muscular sclerosis. As a result of this understanding, in 1996, Gallo created the Institute for Human Virology, a part of the University of Maryland, to further life-improving, and life-saving, research.
Meanwhile, in the US, the once-robust system of medical research and development, which made it possible to develop the polio vaccine and effective treatments for HIV-AIDS, seems to be breaking down. And that breakdown, we must observe, not only puts America at risk, but also the world. [. . .] Yet in the meantime, here in St. George’s, the founding chancellor of this expanding school, Charles Modica, has some further big ideas. Modica figures that since he managed to start up a medical school out of nothing, creating medical-education benefits for the world, then maybe he could manage the same for medical research and development. That is, extend the entrepreneurial vision of St. George’s and Grenada to the actual creation of better treatments and cures–to take yet another step in the worldwide advancement of medicine. Moreover, as he puts, it Grenada could be a medical “free trade zone,” sort of like a Hong Kong for health care.
That is, if the US is throttling its cure pipeline, then maybe Grenada could start another cure pipeline, on its own sovereign territory, where it could set its own rules. [. . .] Modica has no intention of cutting corners; his plan is to make his medical R&D effort totally transparent to local and international observers. Indeed, the more ethically transparent his effort is, the better, because he needs international investment, as well as talent. Both big money, and big brains, are called for. Yet if Modica can succeed in this new effort, the whole world will be a winner, as well as the people of Grenada. And who knows: Maybe the US will be reminded that it, too, has the capacity to prosper by making cures. If that happens, then the whole world will be able to look forward to healthier, and wealthier, 21st century.
Photo above: St. George’s University