06.08.2014

From test tubes to genes, the story of an Argentinean scientific epic

Nora Bär tells in a new book the story of decoding, development and industrial production of human growth hormone that spanned more than three decades of the last century and is the story of two generations of Argentine scientists.

Barañao, Dellacha, Santomé and Bär during the presentation.

Barañao, Dellacha, Santomé and Bär during the presentation.

It is estimated that 1 in 5,000 babies born daily in the world suffer from growth hormone deficiency who without timely medical care could suffer pituitary dwarfism. Today, this condition can be avoided by replacing the missing hormone with an identical version prepared in a laboratory. Treatment should be administered during adolescence and involves subcutaneous injections of the biosynthetic hormone three times a week for eight to ten years. The hormone when produced in our country costs $2,000 per month, while the imported hormone costs US$3.000.

"We are obliged to keep the scientific story of our country and to honor the heroes of this epic", said Barañao

The scientific journalist Nora Bär gathers in the “From tube tests to genes. Growth hormone, an Argentine scientific epic" the story of the decodification, development and industrial production of the human growth hormone which made possible the existence of a treatment to cure the growth hormone deficiency. The book also includes for the first time a comprehensive scientific-technical description made by the doctors in pharmacy and biochemistry Juan Dellacha and Jose Santomé with all processes and chemical studies made by Argentinean scientists and collaborators who laid the foundation for further investigation in genes.

The presentation of the book, held at the Science and Technology Cluster, was headed by the Minister of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, Lino Barañao together with Bär, Dellacha and Santomé. During the meeting, Barañao said: "This book combines scientific aspects with purely emotional components; we are obliged to keep the scientific story of our country and to honor the heroes of this epic".

"In those days it was common to use animal insulin to treat diabetes in people. Inspired by this situation, was born the idea of studying the bovine growth hormone to treat its deficiency in children. Dellacha devised a method to obtain such hormone from bovine pituitary but they were not active in humans" explains Santome about the beginning of the investigation.

Dellacha, Santomé and the pharmaceutical Alejandro Paladini formed a team to understand the reason why this protein did not act in humans and possibilities to change its structure. The challenge was to decipher the primary structure of the bovine growth hormone. After seven years of hard work, Argentinean researchers were the first to publish the complete results, a milestone of global significance considering that until then only few proteins had been sequenced.

Later, the idea of getting the growth hormone from human pituitary appeared, Dellacha organized the collection. The researchers selected a method to extract the gland hormone which allowed them to produce a suitable protein for clinical treatments. 70 marginalized children were treated, which unlike the cases treated in the USA and Britain, did not register drawbacks.

Later, the initiative was followed by other students of Paladini, Dellacha and Santome who began inserting human genes into bacteria, cloned and developed transgenic animals able to produce human hormones in their cells, mastering technology handled only by a handful of countries.

"All our initial work served to concrete the product purification through genetic engineering. We are proud to be able to write down the complete cycle of growth hormone and leave testimony of a single scientific event in the world which was developed in our country", says Dellacha.

"From a distance, it is fascinating to see how chance and necessity were chaining the different stages that led from the interest to unravel the intimate structure of a protein, with precarious means of the biochemistry of the time of the specimens until production by manipulating the genome of superior animals" says the author in the book.

The story of this scientific development spanned more than three decades of the last century and the protagonists were two generations of Argentine scientists. Among them are: Additionally to Santomé, Dellacha and Paladini, the doctor in chemistry and current Minister of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, Lino Barañao; the doctors in pharmacy and biochemistry, Carlota Wolfenstein and Mirtha Biscoglio; the veterinarian doctor, Daniel Salomone and the executive director of Biosidus S.A., Marcelo Criscuolo.

Argentine scientists usually had to work with home equipment or less resources than their counterparts in the northern hemisphere. However, this situation did not prevent them from developing major scientific milestones which became part of the history of world science.

The new book by Nora Bär was presented at the cafe of the Science and Technology cluster together with the minister Barañao and the researchers Dellacha and Santomé. Her work shows how the development of health technologies not only improves the quality of life of people but also creates jobs and put our country into an important place in the international market.

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  • Barañao, Dellacha, Santomé and Bär during the presentation.
  • Barañao, Dellacha, Santomé and Bär during the presentation.
  • Barañao, Dellacha, Santomé and Bär during the presentation.
  • Barañao, Dellacha, Santomé and Bär during the presentation.
  • Barañao, Dellacha, Santomé and Bär during the presentation.
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Barañao, Dellacha, Santomé and Bär during the presentation.

Barañao, Dellacha, Santomé and Bär during the presentation.

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From test tubes to genes, the story of an Argentinean scientific epic

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