Ben-Gurion University study says 'Havana Syndrome' caused by pesticides

“The study validates the need for us to continue to learn more about the use of pesticides and other toxins.”

By
September 20, 2019 05:31
2 minute read.
Brain scan

Brain scan (illustrative). (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

What was previously believed to be the result of acoustic attacks on US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba, the so-called "Havana Syndrome," is now thought to be the result of pesticides, according to a new study.

The interdisciplinary study was requested by Global Affairs Canada in partnership with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and was carried out by by Dr. Alon Friedman of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Dalhoisie University Brain Repair Center in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Havana Syndrome first came to attention in August 2017, when it was reported that US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba suffered from a diverse array of health problems, including loss of balance, lack of sleep, difficulties in concentration and memory retention and headaches.

Friedman discussed his research with the Canadian Broadcasting Service who would then report it to the Canadian government before it was peer-reviewed and published. An unknown source leaked the report. The peer-review process is still ongoing, and it is due to be published online at medRxiv.org in an effort to provide full transparency to the medical community and to dispel any ambiguity regarding the findings.

Using 26 Canadian participants, including diplomats in Havana, the study identifies the specific regions of the brain involved in Havana Syndrome, and suggests "cholnesterase (ChE) inhibitors" and "organophosphorus insecticides" as being a likely cause. ChE is one of the key enzymes needed for the proper functioning of the nervous system – in humans as well as in insects.

“We were also able to test several of the subjects before and after they returned from Cuba,” Dr. Friedman says. “Our team saw changes in the brain that definitely occurred during the time they were in Havana."

Multidisciplinary too and quantitative research methods, such as new tools and advanced MRI techniques as well as magnetoencephalography, were essential to the study's success.

“We followed the science, and with each discovery we asked ourselves more questions,” said Dr. Friedman. “Pinpointing the exact location of where the brain was injured was an important factor that helped lead us to perform specific biochemical and toxicological blood tests and reach the conclusion that the most likely cause of the injury was repeated exposure to neurotoxins.

“The study validates the need for us to continue to learn more about the use of pesticides and other toxins,” he added. “It is a global health issue that reminds us how much we still have to learn about the impact that toxins have on our health.”


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