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Philippines
THE FILIPINO CHAMPION: TOP-NOTCH SCIENTISTS, PROUD TO BE PINOY
by Yen Ocampo, S & T Media Service
08-June-2008 The Manila Times
 

Two Filipino world class scientists received honors from President Arroyo on January 14 at Malacañang Palace for their collaborate research works on conotoxins from Conus sp. marine snails or cone shells that collected in tropical waters. In simple rites, the president conferred to Dr. Lourdes J. Cruz the title National Scientist and to Dr. Baldomero M. Olivera the Philippine Legion of Honor Rank of Grand Officer.

Present during the ceremonies were Department of Science and Technology Secretary Estrella F. Alabastro, NAST President Emil Q. Javier, academicians, government officials, and friends and relatives of Drs. Cruz and Olivera. Also attended were the five living National Scientist such as Gelia T. Castillo, Dolores A. Ramirez, Bienvenido O. Juliano, Ricardo M. Lantican, and Benito S. Vergara. Since the title was conferred in 1978, there have been 31 National Scientists.

Dr. Cruz, an academician from National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), is currently doing a research on neuroactive peptides and other marine toxins at the Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines, Diliman.

She has contributed much to biomedical education of graduate and undergraduate students in the country. She taught for 19 years in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of UP Manila before moving to UP MSI where she team-teaches Marine Biochemistry and Marine Biotechnology and advised 6 PhD, 16 MS and 40 BS students.

One of the founding members of the Philippine society for Biochemistry (current name, Philippine Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology or PSBMB) a society established in 1973 for the continuing education of biochemistry teachers and productive interaction among biochemistry researchers. As the second President of the PSBMB, she organized education workshops for teachers. When she was the delegate of PSBMB to the Federation of Asian and Oceanian Biochemists & Molecular Biology (FAOBMB) and to the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB), she chaired two FAOBMB regional symposia (1984 and 1997) and co-chaired and IUBMB Education workshop (1997). In 1992 she co-chaired the 7th Asian Symposium on Medicinal Plants, Spices and Other Natural Products (ASOMPS) in the Philippines and in 199—she co-chaired a short course of IBRO (International Brain Research Organization) in Manila. In October 2005, she co-organized the 7th Asia-Pacific Symposium on Animal, Plant and Microbial Toxins of
the International Society on Toxinology (IST), which was hosted by UP in Cebu.

Dr. Cruz currently involved in trying to harness S&T for the development of poor rural communities. She conceptualized and established in Rural Livelihood Incubator (Rural LINC) in 2001 with the help of volunteers and seed fund from a private donor. Rural LINC aims to provide a conduit between Filipinos with a scientific and technological background and the rural poor and to provide a mechanism to mobilize scientific and technological resources for direct mitigation of poverty. The strategy envisioned for direct technology transfer to target communities is holistic, ranging from basic technical training, motivational preparation, weekly follow-up/on-site training, and long-term technical support (technical advice, analysis and quality control) to assistance in processing, packaging, and marketing of products. By introducing technology at different levels of sophistication, Rural LINC aims to generate employment opportunities and established sustainable means of livelihood as long-term solutions to poverty and socio-political instability in rural areas.

The need for literacy and education activities became apparent, from the initial experience of Rural LINC in technology transfer in poor communities at the pilot site (Morong, Bataan). Based on the Morong experience, Dr. Cruz drafted a framework for a holistic approach to the empowerment and development of poor and indigenous communities. The holistic approach involves four interrelated activities: education, preservation of cultural heritage, establishment of sustainable livelihood and improvement of health status. The teaching strategy employed by the Rural LINC Program has evolved according to the response of the communities. A most effective strategy is the Learning-Is-Fun session for elementary and high school students. Rural LINC has a small dormitory to bring the Ayta High School students closer to school, where there are three resident volunteer tutors who guide the Ayta students. For the first time in several years, an Ayta assisted by Rural LINC obtained a high school diploma in April 2005.

Dr. Cruz also aimed for a Linking university students to poor rural communities so in 2002, educational institutions started implementing the provisions of the National Service Training Program (NSTP) aimed at enhancing civic consciousness and defense preparedness in the youth be developing the ethics of service and patriotism. One of the three program components is the one-year Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS) course that undergraduate students can take as an alternative to ROTC. Although the Marine Science Institute is not required to teach CWTS, Dr. Cruz decided to offer CWTS course geared toward the development of awareness and concern for biodiversity and conservation of watershed areas in poor rural communities. The course has attracted students from different collages since it was first offered in the second semester of AY 2004-2005. The community interactions provided by the course through the Rural LINC Program has had a significant impact on the attitude and outlook of students as shown in the poster presented at the PAASE meeting in January 2005 and their comments on the course offered in the first semester of AY 2005-2006.

On the other hand, Dr. Olivera is a well-known biochemist and molecular biologist. Recently, he was given the NSF Alumnus Award by Caltech where he obtained his PhD in Chemistry. In recognition of his expertise and accomplishments, he was appointed as member of the US NIH council and served grants, proposals and education programs funded by NIH. Very recently, he was appointed as reviewer of proposals. He also served Harvard as a member of the Committee that reviewed the accomplishments of the university's Molecular Biology Department. As a postdoctoral fellow of Robert Lehman in Stanford, he first isolated DNA ligase, and important enzyme in the synthesis of DNA. He continued work on pyridme nucleotides and characterized properties of DNA polymerase before he shifted to the study of Conus venoms. Under his leadership, the conus program progressed rapidly in discovering numerous peptides by a combination of chemical and molecular approaches. His keen observation and expertise in the taxonomy of marine gastropods, particularly conus, provided insights that lead to the elucidation of the mechanism of action and function classification of the neuroactive conus peptides into families and superfamilies. Several peptides discovered by his group are now in various phases of clinical trials as very specific drugs for pain, epilepsy and other disorders of the nervous system.

Through the Conus project, Dr. Olivera has trained PhD graduates who are currently teaching in UP and De La Salle. Other Filipinos trained in Dr. Olivera's laboratory include MS students, research assistants and faculty members of UP. Dr. Olivera continues to help promote Philippine science through research collaboration with Acd. Lourdes J. Cruz of the UP Marine Science Institute and the training of Filipino researchers.

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