Travel in the Philippines

Filipino scientist named 2007 Scientist of the Year

Professor Baldomero M. Olivera who is a renowed US-based scientist has been selected as the 2007 Scientist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation of Harvard University. He is a UP alumnus (BS Chem, summa cum laude, 1960) and is an ardent supporter of the College of Science.
Dr. Olivera, the Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, will be honored for his Outstanding Achievements and Contributions to American Science. Dr. Olivera will be awarded at a special luncheon and awarding ceremony on Friday, March 16 at the annual Harvard Foundation Science Conference. He will be presented the 2007 Scientist of the Year award and the Harvard Foundation medal in science by the Dean of Harvard College and the President of Harvard University. The award is "to recognize his notable achievements in and contributions to the field of biology." "We feel your notable contributions to molecular biology and your groundbreaking work with conotoxins deserve special recognition," said Harvard Foundation Director S. Allen Counter.

Each year, the Harvard Foundation and members of the science community present this special award to an internationally acclaimed scientist for his or her contributions and achievements in the biological and physical sciences, and particularly their efforts to advance minorities and women in the sciences. The 2006 awardee was Dr. P. Uri Treisman, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin, who is widely recognized for his efforts to improve science and mathematics education, particularly for minorities and women, through such programs as Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). The 2005 awardee was Professor Lily Jan of the University of California, San Francisco, an outstanding biophysicist and leader in science, and an important role model for students and scholars of all backgrounds.

Dr. Olivera has distinguished himself as one of the world's leaders in marine drug discovery and also in neuropharmacology. His work in the last thirty years, supported by the US National Institute of General Medicine Sciences, on peptides produced by venomous Conus snails has led to the elucidation of key molecular mechanisms that underlie nervous system function.

Dr. Olivera graduated valedictorian of the UP Class of 1960 with a BS degree in chemistry, summa cum laude. He received a Fullbright scholarship in 1961 and obtained a PhD in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology with Dr. Norman Davidson. He did postdoctoral work at the Stanford University School of Medicine with Dr. Robert Lehman. Dr. Olivera has received numerous honors and awards for his work. In 2004, he was chosen the Most Distinguished Alumnus of the California Institute of Technology. In 2006, he was named Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and was elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, USA.

Toto Olivera's success as a scientist stems from his natural curiosity and fascination for the natural world, which began with his interest in seashells in his youth. While a chemist and biochemist by training, he is first and foremost a biologist, an ecologist and taxonomist. He continues to share this fascination with young students and researchers in the Philippines by coming home at least twice each year for the last 25 years to give seminars and to pursue projects with Professor Lourdes J. Cruz, National Scientist in Biochemistry, and other scientists at the UP Marine Science Institute and other institutes of UP Diliman. In 2004, Dr. Olivera became a corresponding member of the Philippine National Academy of Science and Technology.

The work of Dr. Olivera and his co-workers on conotoxins led to the development of the first commercially available marine drug in the world known as Prialt or Ziconitide, a natural peptide from the venomous fish-hunting snail Conus magus, which is more effective against chronic pain than morphine. Several other Conus venom peptides are in preclinical and clinical trials for pain, epilepsy and myocardial infarction, and many of these conotoxins are widely used in neuropharmacology research.

Recognizing the need to document and explore further the potential of the rich marine biodiversity of the Philippines, in 2005, Dr. Olivera initiated new studies on the venomous turrid snails which are closely related to Conus snails, in collaboration with Dr. Gisela P. Concepcion of the UP Marine Science Institute. The seminal work on the turrids is being done by Filipino scientists. Dr. Olivera has expressed the urgent need for the Philippine government to significantly increase funding for scientific R&D and manpower development, particularly in the field of marine biodiversity and drug discovery, where the country has a competitive advantage. The PharmaSeas research program proposal led by Dr. Concepcion on venomous snails as a source of anti-pain drugs and marine microorganisms as a source of anti-infective drugs, is being endorsed by Dr. Olivera as the flagship program under a proposed national biodiversity and drug discovery plan. Massive government funding for science and technology, similar to that provided by the governments in India, Korea and Taiwan is, according to Dr. Olivera, the key to the scientific advancement of this country.


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