Guinea pigs and chemistry

On Wednesday, October 28, 2020, we welcomed Lic. Olvin A. Ortiz, delegate of the East region of Colegio de Químicos de Puerto Rico, to our Facebook live, this time, to talk about the process for developing pharmaceuticals locally and internationally, among other topics.

Find out which chemical experiments throughout history were performed on the island, specifically on our citizens, and the consequences.

P. What do you think about “guinea pigs” (animal or human test subjects) in the field of chemistry? Are they really necessary?

R. “I believe they are, because when a new formula is developed, tests need to be made. Generally, they’re first done on animals, and later on, when scientists analyze the results, they calculate what would be the right dose for a human being. When doctors started operating, which was a long time ago, they started experimenting with anestesia, and they were basically guessing because they didn’t know how much was needed for a patient to undergo a procedure. There were many trials and errors, and many people died because they received too much anestesia”.

P. With the current COVID-19 situation, will test subjects or “guinea pigs” give us results we need in little time? Since there’s a rumor going around that a vaccine will be developed in Puerto Rico…

R. “I heard this on the news today, and it’s not a rumor anymore. We’re one of the first countries that will be experimenting with the vaccine, and about a million of these will be made for Puerto Ricans. The priority will be, according to what I heard, the elderly, people with critical conditions, and first line workers (which include doctors). What we still don’t know, because apparently there are three different pharmaceuticals already on phase 3, is which of them will develop the vaccine first, since they’re competing against each other. This phase in which they’re in is already clinical, and the first “guinea pigs” would be volunteers. When you’re a volunteer, they usually give you economic remuneration, and you would typically be covered in case of any side effects that you might be experiencing during or after this period of time. Medical attention would be available to you if you experienced an allergic reaction during the trials, for example. You’re supposed to sign a consent or an agreement form that will detail the possibilities you might be facing”.

P. As Puerto Ricans, we’ve been subjected to participate in different experiments throughout the years. Do you have any idea why this might have happened?

R.  “In a report I read, they mentioned quite a few experiments where we were involved, many of which were fatal. The first one would be the famous Agent Orange, which was released in different forests on the island, because of what was happening in the Vietnam War. Part of El Yunque rainforest suffered the aftermath, and most of the vegetation in that area started dying. As we know, El Yunque is one of the island’s “lungs”, and eventually it was able to recover from those effects. People also suffered the consequences. For example, many islanders developed cancer as a result of this experiment”.

P. Puerto Rican women were involved (as test subjects) in the experiments that would lead to the development of the birth control pill. Do you think that it was because of us that the world now has access to this pharmaceutical?

R. “During the beginning of the 60s, those trials began in Puerto Rico. This process wasn’t voluntary, because this idea was almost nonexistent during those times.  These people (scientists) went to poor communities, because as you know, during our grandparents’ times it was common to have many kids. So they went to the center of the island, to offer an “alternative” to women, but without giving much explanation. They gave these women a free pill so they could control this situation, and avoid having many kids, or at least that’s what they told them”.

If you want to know more, check out our Facebook live: