Breaking The Habit

Meet the devoted Pinay scientist aiming to discover a cure for cancer from the sea

Another Filipina doctor is making waves in the field of marine chemistry, in hopes to discover a cure for cancer in the depths of Philippine seas.

Dr. Gisela Concepcion is 64 years old, an esteemed educator in the field of chemistry, respectfully, marine chemistry.

She graduated valedictorian in high school and proceeded to college, securing a scholarship program from the National Science and Development Board (NDSB), now the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to study chemistry at the University of the Philippines.

Although bagging a scholarship for chemistry, Dr. Gisela’s first love was for mathematics. Only realizing her interest in chemistry after a teacher saw her talent.



Balancing career and family

She juggled both her career and her family life. Bearing her fourth child, as she masters in Biochemistry.

Teaching and at the same time pursuing graduate studies, Dr. Gisela started her study on marine sponge research with the support of her mentor, Dr. Lourdes Cruz, another female scientist prominent in her field.

“When I defended my dissertation, I was pregnant with my fifth child,” she says.


The search for a cure begins

For her dissertation, she presented “8 new compounds from marine sponge that had anti-cancer activity.”

“It was so promising. Why? Many of the drugs for cancer come from bacteria, fungi and plants. Historically these organisms from land are already studied.”

Dr. Gisela Concepcion used to head the Philippine PharmaSeas Drug Discovery Program.

PharmaSeas has already produced several scientific publications and leads for anti-pain and anti-cancer agents.

Though a great discovery, she admits that the process is both tedious and long.

“To this day, cancer is considered the curse. It’s almost like a death sentence. If you are not able to arrest it in Stage 1 or Stage 2, what is the chance it will not recur?” says Dr. Concepcion.

This is her current motivation to pursue her ongoing testing of a reneiramycin M from a species of marine sponge.


Life dedicated to science                                                                                          

Dr. Gisela is seen to retire soon, and without any plans of extending her full-time work, giving way to younger scientists.

“The new generation, they are better-trained than me,” she says.

She will continue to move forward with her existing research to protect her intellectual property.

Nonetheless, Dr. Concepcion’s advocacy work. Writing newspaper columns, and actively campaigning with the Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE).

Their past work resulted in the allocation of government money for the National Science Complex located in UP.

Aside from teaching a class at the UP Open University, she discusses her plans to give several talks at schools to encourage young Filipinos to pursue science.

At 64, Dr. Gisela continues to empower and find new research avenues in the Philippines.

Indeed, age is just a number.


via ABS-CBN News / Kristine Sabillo

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