Genetic study a valuable tool for Panama’s transplant specialists

By Fabio Agrana

Panama City, Mar 18 (efe-epa).- Panamanian researchers carried out a pioneering genetic study that will enhance the nation’s status as a regional center for organ transplants.

Alejandro Vernaza-Kwiers, founder and director of Panama’s National Transport Laboratory, and seven other scientists spent two decades collecting data from 8,500 unrelated people to determine the frequency of Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) alleles and haplotypes.

That information is crucial when it comes to calculating the likelihood of whether a recipient’s immune system will reject a transplant.

While similar studies exist for Latin American countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile, Panama and Costa Rica are the only nations in Central America to have undertaken the exercise, Vernaza-Kwiers told Efe.

“We have carried out these studies with very defined aims, to utilize gene and haplotype frequencies in the transplant programs,” he said.

The research has enabled the creation of a list, dubbed “Project Panama Donates,” of 754 people willing to donate hematopoietic stem cells, Vernaza-Kwiers said.

The findings have also been added to a publicly accessible international data base for scholars and practitioners, according to study co-author Alejandro Llanes of Panama’s Indicasat-AIP science and technology research organization.

“It requires thousands of people to be studied to be able to obtain this information and it really has value at the level of the population,” Llanes said. “That is one of the most important things we need to emphasize about this study, which is the end point, the finishing touch of 20 years of work by the National Transplant Institute.”

Panama’s first transplant operation was in 1990.

Another 1,300 operations – between 40 and 50 a year on average – have been performed since then, Vernaza-Kwiers said, while noting that the programs remain on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The fact that Panama “has developed so much transplant activity, that Panama has a laboratory that has the best technology that exists in the world, serves as support for the development in the Central American area,” he said.

“And there is a lot of training of Central American professionals who come to Panama to try to develop their transplant programs. We are a center, I must say, that wants to become a transplant hub at the Central American and Caribbean level,” Vernaza-Kwiers said. EFE


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