HomePoliticsGabriela Jiménez: “There are 210 scientific projects to meet the needs of the people”

Gabriela Jiménez: “There are 210 scientific projects to meet the needs of the people”

The minister highlighted that the Venezuelan State was able to overcome the blockade and bring the most modern microscopes in America to the country.

In some file on her cell phone, the Minister of Science and Technology, Gabriela Jiménez, preserves the voice that President Nicolás Maduro sent her, drawing the formula to use to break the blockade and resurrect scientific research in Venezuela.

“Gabriela, we are going to achieve it through actions,” says part of the recording and that the minister evokes seven years later during an interview she gave to Últimas Noticias in his office on the corner of El Chorro in Caracas.

“Today we can say that we have overcome this terrorist blockade; Write it like this,” says the biologist with watery eyes as she asks her assistants to send her, via WhatsApp, the photos of the latest generation microscopes that entered Venezuela in a triangulated manner with the collaboration of friendly countries.

In the interview, the sector vice president for Science, Technology, Education and Health revealed the place where modern microscopes are found, already in the hands of women and men who take advantage of them to detect new diseases, project climate changes and discover wealth. mining that exists in the bowels of the Venezuelan soil.

Some of the latter was seen live last Thursday when President Nicolás Maduro observed through one of the microscopes, brought to the country despite the blockade, the composition of a rock collected in the mining areas of Venezuela.

“Here there is something we discovered, but it cannot be said yet,” commented the head of state during an event held in the courtyards of the Aquiles Nazoa Cultural House, from where he granted financing for 210 scientific projects for an amount of $7.657.093.

821 women of the 25.877 researchers registered in the Great Science Mission, named Humberto Fernández Morán, participate in these works, which was activated by Maduro last Wednesday, April 10, from the Scientific and Technological Pole of the Foundation of the Institute of Advanced Studies. (Idea).

—How did Venezuela bring those modern microscopes?
—In 2017, the Republic acquired three electron microscopes, manufactured by a very famous North American transnational and it was to modernize the obsolete equipment of the Faculty of Sciences of the Central University of Venezuela, of the Metallurgical Research Center of the Siderúrgica of the Orinoco in the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana and for the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research (Ivic).

—Venezuela already had that technology, but needed to update it.
—Venezuela is the birthplace of electron microscopy since the contributions of Dr. Humberto Fernández Morán: the ultramicrotome, the diamond blade and the identification of mitochondrial subparticles, were due to the use and applications of new techniques, for the study in biological tissues, for example. We have always been in a leading position in the area of ​​electron microscopy. We had a permanent electron microscopy program, linked to a national network with the Universidad de Oriente, the Central de Venezuela, and the Luis Caballero Mejías Experimental Polytechnic. This infrastructure allowed us to train about 200 professionals a year.

—All that was interrupted with the United States sanctions.
—Our equipment was Siemens and Japanese. But, based on the sanctions, which are an immoral and in some cases terrorist act, those equipment that arrives in Venezuela are installed, but could not be turned on because the column of the electron microscope requires a tungsten (metal) filament to emit the electrons. We had an electron microscope that did not emit electrons.

—In short, what are those electron microscopes for?
—For research, teaching and development of activities linked to the industry, among others.

—For example, those that were destined for the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana.
—This allowed you to develop a series of technologies and applications for the study of materials, determination of minerals, metallic structures, nanotechnology. When you want to do corrosion analysis on boats, you do scanning microscopy analysis to see how the metal surface is, if there is any wear.

—In what other areas are electron microscopes required?
—To study insects, pollen, you also need scanning microscopy. Insects are so tiny that to be able to analyze each leg, each antenna of an ant, for example, you do scanning microscopy and you can have the entire topography of the insect. In the case of pollen grains from flowers, they also have some particularities. There are insects that pollinate some flowers and others do not.

—They are studies that indirectly evaluate climate change.
—Yes, with climate change we are observing fewer flowering processes, less availability of seeds; We are also evaluating whether the alteration is due to pollen.

—Electron microscopy is useful for many things.
—In the end, electron microscopy is a transversal technique for the development of many productive sectors of the country, agriculture, industry, electronics, health, mining.

—Having an electron microscope puts you in a position within the world of science.

—In the world, an indicator of the productive development of a country is linked to the number of electronic microscopes installed, which allow the analysis of materials and ultrastructures.

—You classified all of this as “the right to understand.”
—When you want to interpret reality, when you want to build solutions to problems, because science must respond to the needs of the people. When you want to analyze a phenomenon, it is your right to understand.

—How did that right remain in the midst of all that set of measures imposed by the United States?
—When you restrict the educational system, when you attack the science system, what are you doing to a people?… You are limiting their possibilities to develop their own capabilities, their right to development. If you have a scientific infrastructure that reaches a degree of obsolescence, but that you also cannot reinvest or modernize, how do you think people get the new tools to face today's challenges?

—Let's go back to the story of how they brought electron microscopes.
—We began to look for other suppliers of this equipment that would like to sell to Venezuela. It took us almost five years because the pandemic hit.

—Another obstacle
—But last year we achieved a mechanism and we bought them as if they were for Venezuela from a sister country. And after they arrived in our sister country, we brought them. It was triangulated.

-And then?
—Then the microscopes arrived at customs, we didn't say anything. Since October 2023, the parts, the different components, began to arrive; then put them together, turn them on and train ourselves again because we had not operated electron microscopes for seven years.

—What do we have then?
—We currently have the two most modern microscopes in all of America, installed at the Technological Pole, Engineering Institute Foundation, which is in Sartenejas, Baruta.

-Why there?
—We place them there because we want to enhance the country's engineering to link it to the national productive apparatus. The development of the industry requires a lot of engineering and these microscopes are at the service of this.

—But they are two microscopes. Will they, then, bring future engineers to the Technological Pole?
—In the Technological Pole there is residence for 52 scientists who want to live there. We can then receive students every two, three months so that they can settle there, do internships and train in microscopy.

—What areas are going to be prioritized?
—Health, environment, agriculture, climate change, engineering (metallurgical, chemical, industrial) and materials analysis. For example, we can analyze whether Sukhoi aircraft have any damage to their structure that is not noticeable to the naked eye.

—President Maduro mentioned that Venezuela is in fourth place in one of those scientific categories.
—Venezuela, in its scientific agenda, has developed tools for genomic surveillance, that is, the use of molecular genetics to monitor species such as viruses, bacteria that can affect health, such as covic, avian influence. This genomic surveillance allows us to see the genes of any bug.

-For example?
—I can tell you right now how many dengue fevers are circulating in Venezuela. Why? Because we have sequenced the dengue viruses in our patients. This network that makes up molecular biology, molecular genetics of viruses and bacteria allows us to monitor these microorganisms, their presence in the country and their relationship with a disease.

—Does that put Venezuela in that position that President Nicolás Maduro alluded to?
—Venezuela is the fourth country in Ibero-America in the genomic surveillance network and that project is led by women. This was certified by the Ibero-American Science Network. This, despite the sanctions, which I take this opportunity to say: sanctions are an immoral act and even an act of terrorism when they threaten public health.

—The United Nations says that these sanctions caused devastating effects on the Venezuelan population.
—When the United Nations special rapporteur, Alena Douhan, came to Venezuela (February 2021), she prepared a report saying that the sanctions had had a devastating effect on the Venezuelan population. When she came, we took her to visit Industrias Canaima, where canaimitas are manufactured for schoolchildren. By the way, right now we have 500 thousand Canaimites blocked in Portugal since 2017.

—What other places did they take the United Nations rapporteur to?
—We took her to the situation with the electron microscopes to explain to her that we could not do scientific studies in Venezuela.

—Did they explain any particular case to you?
—There are people who are born with some alterations of the lower limbs and require some biopsies and tissues. If the mutation is associated with muscle fibers, these people do not develop muscles, therefore, the bones have no way to support themselves, and they cannot walk. We explained to the rapporteur that we carried out these studies in the electron microscopy service of the UCV and the Ivic. Because it allowed us to give a diagnosis to our patients. We told him that microscopy was also useful for the development and study of possible medications. So, you are affecting the industrial productive apparatus, the pharmaceutical sector, the public health, educational and citizen security agendas of the country, because ballistics studies, among others, come into play there.

—An impact in various areas
—This was generating a whole distortion and affectation of the science system where electron microscopy was dying. The laboratories were closed.

—Now President Maduro approved financing for 210 scientific projects. When did you start that plan?
—We made the call when we debated the 7 Transformations (7T). There the women provided recommendations and we assumed that these were the lines of scientific research in Venezuela.

—How did that debate happen?
—We held 63 thousand assemblies; millions of people responded to what their interests were in that research. So, we assumed that as part of the lines of research in our country, where the people wanted to develop their knowledge, their abilities, their skills.

—And that is where those 210 funded projects are born.
—We receive a host of projects; The Technical Committee approved 210 projects, we continue to receive the same throughout the year. To date we have 333 projects with financing; 76% of them are developed by women.

—What projects stand out?
—Those 210 funded projects are the most meaningful projects, most identified with our realities, designed and planned to meet the real needs of the Venezuelan people. They are not imported agendas. So, you have women who are studying cervical cancer in our women; others, breast cancer, in our women; Others are doing the neonatal screening study, which is the heel test of babies at birth and which are determining if the children have a genetic condition that affects their health.

—Projects linked to public health, to diseases in the region.
-Yeah. We also have projects related to the mass production of the kit for the diagnosis of breast cancer; projects for the characterization of HPV in Venezuela and its incidence in neck cancer in our women. Our scientists go to the communities, perform cytology tests, determine if women have HPV. Then those HPV samples come to the laboratory for sequencing.

—For example, in that investigation, what have they discovered?
—For example, there are 118 HPV variants and, some of them are oncological, they are associated with the development of cervical cancer. But early diagnosis allows you preventive actions, because 98%, if there is early diagnosis, you can cut the course of the disease.

—It is noted that science in Venezuela is very active
-Too much. There in the auditorium (of the Ministry of Science) are the 210 women scientists, receiving their computers and finishing signing the contract for the financing of their projects. They are very excited.


”76% of the country's research is being carried out by women and is funded by the State; And that is an instruction from President Maduro, that they assume the reins of coordination, the direction of the country's research laboratories and knowledge management."

“The 210 projects that President Maduro ordered, with financing of 7,6 million dollars, are not individual projects; They are developed through networks of collaboration and participation with other women. So, there are 210 projects and 1.200 women associated with the activities that will be developed in these plans and that allows the collective construction of knowledge and the agenda for open science."

“Among these projects we have studies related to the development of potential drugs derived from our native plants. We are doing medicinal chemistry, the characterization of the plants to test them on tissues with cancer, HIV, Malaria, Hepatitis. "We are testing whether they are anti-microbial, so that by inhibiting the growth of the bacteria or virus, we have a potential medicine to develop and apply."

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