Two Filipino Scientists Honored with Prestigious International Science Award for Work on Snail Venom

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Two Filipino scientists are recipients of this year’s Golden Goose Award, which recognizes innovative breakthroughs and inventions based on federally funded research. 

Biochemists Baldomero Oliva and Lourdes Cruz, along with their colleagues Michael McIntosh and the late Craig T. Clark, were honored for their groundbreaking studies on venom in cone snails that led to the discovery of a compound called peptides. They found that, while the snails used the venom to paralyze fish, the peptides reacted differently when applied to other animals like mice. Instead of paralyzing them, the peptides disrupted their ability to sense pain.

“And so it was an 'aha' moment of, this may be useful for blocking pain without causing paralysis,” said McIntosh in the video presented during the awarding ceremony held Wednesday, September 14 (Thursday in Manila). “And what was astounding was this peptides used to paralyze fish has an application that can treat pain in a human.”

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McIntosh added that the peptide was found to be 1,000 times more potent than morphine but that it doesn’t cause tolerance.

Although research began as early as the 1960s and 1970s, the painkiller wasn’t approved until 2004.

The team’s work on these so-called conotoxins is being used as a basis for other scientists to explore the possibility of using conotoxins to treat illnesses like diabetes, epilepsy and addiction.

Photo by YouTube / Screenshot.
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Oliva and Cruz are both graduates of the University of the Philippines. Oliva went on to receive his PhD at the California Institute of Technology and pursue postdoctoral work at Stanford University. He now works as a distinguished professor of biology at the University of Utah. In 2007, he was named by Harvard University as its Scientist of the Year. 

Cruz, meanwhile, studied chemistry in UP Diliman and then received her masters and doctorate degrees from the University of Iowa. She worked at the International Rice Research Institute and the Kansas State University. She has received multiple awards throughout her distinguished career, including being named National Scientist of the Philippines in 2006. 

Photo by YouTube / Screenshot.

Other honorees in this year’s Golden Goose Awards are scientists who worked on developing a high-functioning microscope made of paper, and a lab accident that led to the development of a laser procedure to correct vision called LASIK.

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The prizes are handed out each year by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"The Golden Goose Award reminds us that potential discoveries could be hidden in every corner and illustrates the benefits of investing in basic research to propel innovation," said Sudip S. Parikh, AAAS CEO, during the awarding ceremony.

For more information about the awards, click here. Or you can watch the proceedings in the video below. The segment on the snail venom starts at 1:06:04:

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Paul John Caña
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