Outstanding Filipino science innovatorsBy Queena N. Lee-Chua
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As a highlight of last month’s observance of National Science and Technology Month, four innovative scientists received medals from the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) for helping advance the cause of science while serving society.
Christian Joseph R. Cumagun, an agricultural scientist at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Los Baños, received the Outstanding Research and Development Eduardo A. Quisumbing Medal for mapping the genes of the fungus fusarium that can help destroy plant pathogens, thereby reducing reliance on pesticides.
In 2008, when I served on the preliminary board of judges for The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Awards, Cumagun impressed me with his work in agriculture. In fact, he was one of the first in the country to study Trichoderma strains, fungi that act as natural pest control.
One of NAST’s Outstanding Young Scientists (OYS), Cumagun also holds the prestigious title of UP Scientist. These twin recognitions made me lobby strongly for his receiving the TOYM award, which he did. I am glad to see his painstaking work continues to this day.
Ma. Corazon A. de Ungria, a microbiologist and head of the DNA Analysis Laboratory in UP Diliman, received the Outstanding Research and Development Julian A. Banzon Medal for her tireless efforts in conducting forensic DNA analysis.
For decades, De Ungria and her team have used forensics to resolve parentage issues, to identify remains of victims of fires, to help in sexual assault and child abuse cases and to aid in other criminal investigations.
De Ungria’s team continues to research the genetics of different local ethno-linguistic groups to understand better our people’s genetic history.
An OYS and a TOYM award recipient, De Ungria is also in the Gawad Chancellor UP Hall of Fame for Research. She is one scientist whom I not only respect, but also have affection for. Some years ago, when a student wanted to write about CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) in the Philippines, I referred her to De Ungria, who gave such a lucid explanation of molecular investigation that my student was inspired to do a great paper.
Having served with De Ungria on the board of directors of the OYS, I have experienced firsthand her dedication, creativity and generosity in helping fellow Filipino scientists do their best.
Natural cancer cure
Science Secretary Mario Montejo is known for giving emphasis to technological applications. Pure science, of course, has its place in the advancement of knowledge but, for a developing nation, commercialization of technologies is vitally important. Thus, he ensured that innovations that have made it to the marketplace should also be given their due.
Rolando C. dela Cruz was conferred the Outstanding Technology Commercialization Gregorio Y. Zara Medal for his various herbal antiviral products.
In his past work as a barber, Dela Cruz saw how much his clients suffered from skin diseases such as warts, moles, fungal infections. Using extracts from the cashew nut and other herbs, Dela Cruz came up with healing creams, the most popular of which are DeMole and DeWart.
Most radical of all was his claim that his products could treat patients with basal cell carcinoma. In the Pinoy Achievers website (filipinoachievers.wordpress.com), he is quoted as saying, “By mere application of the cream, with no radical and unacceptable surgeries or procedures, 14 patients with skin cancer were cured in
16 weeks. No recurrences were reported.”
His inventions won the Tuklas Award from the Department of Science and Technology in 1998. Since then, Dela Cruz has won gold medals at inventors’ fairs in Malaysia, Russia, Germany and United Kingdom. His latest award is long overdue.
Research cannot be done in a vacuum, and administrators can make or break scientific efforts.
Dr. Carmencita D. Padilla received the Dioscoro L. Umali Medal for her remarkable leadership in human genome institutions and research teams.
Her research interests span the gamut from pediatrics to human genetics to inborn metabolic disorders. She holds clinic at Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center, Manila Doctors Hospital and Philippine Children’s Medical Center. She is also a professor at the Department of Pediatrics at the UP College of Medicine.
But Padilla is most recognized for her institutional leadership. She established the country’s first Medical Genetics Unit at the UP College of Medicine, which became the Institute of Human Genetics.
Padilla’s most lasting legacy is her advocacy for newborn screening, which can detect and treat inherited conditions in infants that can lead to mental retardation or even death, if undiagnosed.
In 1996, Padilla convinced the Department of Health to include newborn screening in its national program. Then she lobbied for the Newborn Screening Bill to become law, which happened in 2004. In 2006, she became director of the Newborn Screening Program of the National Institutes of Health in UP Manila, a position she holds to this day.
The citation for her 2004 Presidential Lingkod Bayan Award reads: “Dr. Padilla’s passion for newborn screening has not only saved countless infants from certain death; it has also saved others from … mental retardation.”
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