By Lordom Grecia (Class 2021)
On November 17-18, 2018, the UP Physician-Scientists Association (UP PSA) and the St. Luke’s Molecular Medicine Society (SLMMS) successfully held the 2018 Molecular Medicine Conference with the theme “From Bench to Bedside and Beyond: Unraveling the Current Initiatives, Challenges, and Solutions in Translational Medicine in the Philippines.” The two-day event was held at the Angelo King Auditorium of the St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine – William H. Quasha Memorial, and was attended by more than a hundred participants from all over the Philippines. The conference consisted of a poster presentation competition and talks by esteemed speakers from both the local and international scientific community. The talks were divided into three groups, with each having a keynote speaker, 2 panelists, and a moderator facilitating the open forum. The format gave more time for the open forum rather than the talks themselves, encouraging critical thinking among the participants and allowing them to ask more questions. This is considered a highlight of the conference, as it deviated from the usual scientific conference where little time is allotted for discussion and open forum.
Leslie Faye T. Cando (Class 2023) served as master of ceremonies on both days. The conference began with welcoming remarks from the President of UP PSA, Jea Giezl N. Solidum (Class 2021). This was followed by a brief icebreaker game in a speed dating format that allowed the participants and speakers to get to know each other’s research interests. After a quick health break, the guests from the Philippine Genome Center (PGC), Philippine California Advanced Research Institute (PCARI), and the Clinical and Translational Research Institute of The Medical City gave presentations. The guests from PGC presented the services that they offer at the DNA Sequencing Core Facility and the Bioinformatics Core Facility. The presenters from PCARI gave an overview of their offered programs and scholarships. Roland Remenyi, PhD, then presented the BRU Virtual Lab application, which allows users to explore the laboratory design and the equipment in the Biomedical Research Unit of the Clinical and Translational Research Institute of The Medical City in an interactive format suitable for education. The posters were then formally opened for viewing, and the participants also had the chance to listen to the poster presenters and ask them questions.
The first Forum entitled “Bench: Dissecting the Roadmap of Vaccine Development in the Philippines” began after lunch. This session was moderated by Dr. Salvador Eugenio C. Caoili, MD, PhD, from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, College of Medicine, University of the Philippines – Manila. The keynote speaker for this session was Dr. Nina G. Gloriani, MD, PhD, from the College of Public Health of the University of the Philippines – Manila. She highlighted the importance of undergoing vaccine research in order to address preventable infectious diseases, especially emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. She shared her insights and experiences in basic science research, and emphasized the need for renewed efforts in vaccine development.
The first panel speaker was Moi Meng Ling, PhD, from the Institute of Tropical Medicine of Nagasaki University. She discussed the results of her own research, which revealed that both protective neutralizing antibodies and non-neutralizing cross-reactive antibodies are produced in dengue infections. She disclosed that non-neutralizing antibodies serve to enhance infectivity of the dengue virus, resulting in an immune profile that fails to offer protection against dengue infection, and their results may pave the way for a better method for assessing vaccine efficacy against dengue.
The second panel speaker was Rommel J. Gestuveo, MSc, from the University of the Philippines – Visayas and University of Glasgow, Scotland. He described his own research on the interactions of the Zika virus (ZIKV) with host proteins, in which he was able to identify several candidate proteins that may be used as therapeutic targets in protecting against ZIKV infections. Interestingly, some of the proteins he identified are part of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway, suggesting a possible role for the pathway in ZIKV infections.
After the speakers’ presentations, Dr. Caoili facilitated the open forum, where several enthusiastic participants asked thought-provoking questions for the panelists. The first Forum ultimately highlighted the importance of basic science research that may eventually be translated into useful clinical tools such as vaccines.
The end of the first Forum also marked the conclusion of the first day of the conference. The first day ended on a high, with most participants looking forward to the next two Forums the next day.
The second day began with the second Forum, entitled “Bedside: Fighting the Big C with ATCGs.” This session was moderated by Jickerson P. Lado, MSc, from the University of the Philippines – Los Baños. The keynote speaker for the session was Dr. Toshio Shimizu, MD, PhD, from the Department of Experimental Therapeutics, National Cancer Center Hospital in Tokyo, Japan. He discussed the emergence of genome-driven therapies for cancers, where cancers with specific genetic mutations respond well to targeted drugs regardless of tissue of origin. He shared that these specific genetic mutations are now relatively easy to detect, especially due to comprehensive coverage by next-generation sequencing platforms, and that this may pave the way for further developments in cancer therapeutics.
The first panel speaker for this Forum was Dr. Romulo Jacinto S. De Villa, MD, PhD, a renowned molecular and nutritional oncologist. He discussed the use of nutraceuticals in targeting immune evasion mechanisms, and highlighted the need for discovering unique processes in cancer cells in order to develop appropriate and effective therapeutics for cancer patients. He also emphasized the importance of cooperation among researchers, clinicians, and even pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies in order to effectively translate laboratory findings into clinically acceptable therapeutics.
The second panel speaker was Loraine Kay D. Cabral, MSc, from the Human Cancer Biobank Research Unit of the Research and Biotechnology Group, St. Luke’s Medical Center. She discussed the global developments in cancer research and therapeutics, including advances in characterizing cancers in terms of molecular profiles, such as genomics, proteomics, and epigenetics. This puts emphasis on the value of molecular diagnostic testing for cancers, such that important markers that may aid in therapeutics can be identified. However, she also emphasized the need for local data, especially in the context of the genetic and genomic variations for Filipinos and Asians compared to Caucasians, on whom most of the available data are based.
Mr. Lado turned out to be a very lively moderator. His enthusiasm seemed to rub off on the participants, who were eager to ask their questions and have a discussion with the panelists. The second Forum focused on cancer diagnostics and therapeutics and how advances in basic science research have been translated to applications in these fields.
The judging for the poster presentations was done on the second day. The six poster presenters were Jing R. Bautista, MSc, MD, from Adventist Medical Center College – Iligan City, J-Ann Marie T. Lego from the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of the Philippines – Diliman, Edrienne Myenna Magat from the University of Sto. Tomas, Franco G. Teves from Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology, Joseph Christian Manzano from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, College of Medicine, University of the Philippines – Manila, and Ma. Celeste S. Abad from the Research and Biotechnology Division, St. Luke’s Medical Center.
Their posters were judged on the basis of the content, graphics, and the presenter’s ability to answer questions and explain their study. The poster judges were Dr. Fresthel Monica M. Climacosa, MD, PhD, from the Department of Medical Microbiology, College of Public Health, UP Manila, Paul Mark B. Medina, MSc, PhD, from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, College of Medicine, UP Manila, Matthew S. Bramble, PhD, from the Department of Genetic Medicine, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D.C., and Michael O. Baclig, RMT, PhD, from the St. Luke’s Medical Center.
The final Forum, entitled “Beyond: Translational Medicine – A Foresight to a Better Healthcare,” began in the afternoon of the last day. Jeremiah V. Reyes (Class 2021) of UP PSA and Jerica Isabel L. Reyes, RN, MSc, of SLMMS, served as moderators for this session. The keynote speaker was Dr. Evan Glenn S. Vista, a rheumatologist and professor from St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine. He gave an overview of his practice as a rheumatologist, with focus on systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, more commonly known as lupus), highlighting the particular challenges of such a systemic disease with multiple possible manifestations. His work as a clinician guided his direction as a scientist, doing research work on lupus as well, and he emphasized the importance of further research in order to better understand complicated diseases like lupus.
The first panel speaker was David C. Klinzing, PhD, from Compass Genetics, Singapore. He shared how translational medicine is a mindset – and that great minds think alike. He emphasized the importance of cooperation among researchers, clinicians, and the private sector, and of each knowing how they fit in the process. He also shared his experiences on how feedback – both positive and negative – plays a role in translational medicine and research.
The second panel speaker was Neil Fidelle Lomibao, RPh, from the University of the Philippines – Manila. His talk focused on how to ensure the sustainability of research products such that they can successfully be translated into clinical tools. He stressed the importance of having a business model – whether it is a for-profit or non-profit model – for your research output in order to get investors and bring the product to the market. He also shared the importance of asking the people what they need, so that whatever your research produces can have a better chance of receiving support from the community.
The open forum for this last session was of a different tone from the rest, because aside from the usual questions directed to the panelists there were also shared frustrations from beginning scientists and established researchers alike. The last session demonstrated the ultimate challenge of translational research and medicine: getting an output to the intended recipients (that is, the patients or the medical community), ensuring access, availability, and sustainability, and at the same time leaving enough resources for research to continue.
After the emotionally loaded open forum of the third session, the winners of the poster presentation competition were announced. Ma. Celeste S. Abad won third place and a cash prize of PHP1,000.00, for her work on Cytogenetic Findings in Filipino Patients with Acute Leukemia. Edrienne Myenna Magat won second place and a cash prize of PHP2,000.00, for her work entitled Serologic Evidence for the Potential Association of Clostridium difficile Toxin B (TcdB) with Colorectal Carcinoma. J-Ann Marie T. Lego won first place and a cash prize of PHP3,000.00 for her study on long non-coding RNA HULC and its regulation by microRNA in colorectal cancer.
The new officers of the St. Luke’s Molecular Medicine Society were then inducted in front of the audience, and the incumbent officers of the UP Physician-Scientists Association were introduced. The members of the organizing committee were also called onstage. Jerica Isabel L. Reyes, RN, MSc, the incoming President of SLMMS, then gave the closing remarks. The participants were then invited for a big group photo, marking the official end of the conference.
The 2018 Molecular Medicine Conference is only the second conference of its kind in the Philippines, and is the first time the St. Luke’s Molecular Medicine Society collaborated with the UP Physician-Scientists Association. The organizers hope for more support and participation in future iterations of the conference.
Special thanks to Jeremiah Reyes (Class 2021) for verifying the information in this article.
All photos courtesy of the Organizing Committee of the 2018 Molecular Medicine Conference.