‘Pandemic highlights the importance of research’

A life-size bronze sculpture titled, “Malayang isip” (at the background), by renowned sculptor Jose Manuel “Manolo” Sicat (third from right), that is dedicated to the Filipino researchers, scientists and artists, is unveiled during the DOST-National Research Council of the Philippines’ 88th founding anniversary. Leading the event are Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña, Undersecretary Rowena Cristina Guevara, DOST-NRCP President Dr. Gregorio E.H. Del Pilar and DOST-NRCP Executive Director Dr. Marieta Bañez Sumagaysay.

The Philippine economy and the people’s lives have been “severely battered” by the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020, however, the Filipinos’ “inquisitive and creative minds” propelled the people to “overcome adversities.”

It has “highlighted the importance of research as a strong solution to saving lives and stabilizing economies.”

These statements were said by Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña and Undersecretary Rowena Cristina L. Guevara in their speeches at the 88th General Membership Assembly and Annual Scientific Conference of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Themed “Pagbangon at Pananaig: National Recovery and Rebuilding,” the assembly that was held online was attended by more than 1,400 of the council’s members.

‘Turning carbon nto diamond’

De la Peña said the “world may have grinded into a halt, but our inquisitive and creative minds did not stop thinking of the why’s and how’s of things that happened, things that are happening, and things that may happen.”

He said he saw “how quick we have adopted to something that’s unheard of for most of us.”

In as much as the mind is vulnerable to distress, “it is just as a powerful in propelling us to overcoming adversities,” he added.

De la Peña noted that the NRCP annual event is “an opportunity to look at how we, in the scientific and artistic community, continue to evolve, adapt, and rise up to the challenges of the fast-changing world we live in.”

As the head of the DOST, he pointed out that he has seen “first-hand how a lot of you, our dear researchers, scientist, artists, innovators, and educators also prevailed over adversities brought on by this pandemic.

“From your respective project implementation, to the conduct of your classes in the academe just to continue feeding the minds of your dear students, I’ve seen how we, when subjected to extreme pressure and adverse conditions, can behave like carbon that turns into diamond.”

Researches ‘repurposed’

to address Covid-19

Guevara said researches were made in order to understand the virus and develop diagnostic kits, treatments and vaccines.

“Our researchers and scientists developed technologies that track the virus in a more accurate and faster manner,” she said.

Besides highlighting the hard science, the pandemic also “emphasized the need and importance of social sciences” with the emotions, feelings and behaviours of studied and led to the provision of the mental health and psychosocial support policies and services to the people.

As a result, short-term responses, medium-term plans and long-term plans of DOST R&D were made to address the pandemic.

She said the government has “redirected” basic science and existing applied research to Covid-19 in order to respond to people’s pressing needs during this pandemic.

Among some of the researches “repurposed” for Covid-19 are the  GenAmplify (RT-PCR) Detection Kit; the Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler (FASSSTER); and RxBox biomedical device, she said.

The GenAmplify Covid-19 RT-PCR Detection Kit that was developed by Manila HealthTek was originally intended for dengue detection.

The kit offers a real-time detection of Covid-19 in respiratory samples using a one-step multiplex real-time PCR platform. It is now mass produced after securing the approval from the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration. It was supported by the DOST and the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD).

The Ateneo Center for Computing Competency and Research-created FASSSTER provides a user-friendly tool for modeling disease spreads in the Philippines to aid in the Department of Health’s disease surveillance efforts.

FASSSTER is a multi-dimensional approach in modeling disease spreads by using localized indices from Philippine health records and integrating other data sources, including the disease and event surveillance systems and existing electronic medical records.

Meanwhile, the RxBox biomedical device measures the temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, uterine contractions and electrocardiogram readings of patients diagnosed with Covid-19, especially those in severe or critical conditions who need continuous monitoring.

The device protects both the patient and the attending healthcare worker as it reduces contact between them. It was also developed by researchers from UP Manila-National Institute of health and UP Diliman

Joint efforts

The DOST’s sectoral planning councils also formulated programs that joined the efforts of the government, academe, industry and civil society in the fight against Covid-19.

This include the “Addressing and Responding to Covid-19 through Health Research [Archer]” project led by the DOST-PCHRD.

It aims to fund research projects that provide regulatory studies and solutions for the development of new drugs and supplements, vaccines, diagnostic kits, prediction studies through information and communications technology and medical facilities’ enhancement.

On the other hand, the “Science and Technology for a Resilient Community against the Pandemic [STRAP Block Grant]“ was developed in order to help the people to adapt to the new normal.

Among the projects that were funded in this program are: 1) Work from home tools; 2) Workplace ergonomics; 3) Safe mobility and transport in air, sea and land; 4) Response and coping with the new normal; 5) Testing and calibration of locally-developed medical devices; 6) Geospatial and ICT Solutions; 7) New devices and products; 8) Protective coatings for surfaces and PPEs; 9) Detection and disinfection technologies; and 10) Emergency food for Covid-19 affected families, communities and frontliners.

There is also the “Rebuilding the Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources in Response to Covid-19 [ReAARRC],” program of the DOST-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development.

This aims to transfer technology and disseminate information to the public in terms of ensuring food security in this challenging time.

At the same time, two centers—the Virology S&T Institute of the Philippines, and the Pharmaceutical Development Centers—are being pushed to be institutionalized so they would “serve as the premier research and development institute in virology and drug discovery in the country.

These DOST R&D can help the Philippines become self-sufficient, resilient and able to quickly recover in future pandemics, Guevara said.

Guevara pointed out that besides providing short-term solutions, “We need to accelerate competitiveness in all aspects that affect our lives. We need to invest on economic activities of our start-up and MSMEs [micro, small and medium enterprises], preserve biodiversity, restore our environment, think of more sustainable food system, strengthen our healthcare system and most importantly invest more in R&D.”

Image credits: Henri de Leon/DOST STII

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