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16-Year-Old Filipino Discovers the Aratiles Plant Can Be Used to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Student scientist Maria Isabel Layson finds practical medicinal uses for the local plant.
IMAGE GBF
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Sixteen-year-old Maria Isabel Layson recently competed at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) held in Phoenix, Arizona from May 12 to 17. She, along with 11 other Filipino delegates, was among 1,800 student scientists from over 80 countries to compete at what’s lauded to be the world’s largest pre-university science competition. Layson, a student of the Iloilo National High School, listed her exceptional research on the antidiabetic properties of aratiles (scientific name Muntingia calabura Linn or the Jamaican cherry in English) as an entry to the competition.

Layson anchored her study on the much-overlooked plant found in tropical countries such as Mexico, Bolivia, and the Philippines. Aratiles trees grow in her own backyard at home. Layson's motivation for the study came from her personal background, as several of her family members succumbed to diabetes. She discovered that while the plant has been studied for 22 years, current studies have yet to tap the plant’s full potential as a medicinal resource.

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Layson's research took her back and forth to Manila to complete experiments at the Food and Nutrition Research Institute laboratory. Eventually, she discovered that the aratiles fruit is a source of antioxidants and in “practical application that can be directed towards the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus through the prevention of postprandial hyperglycemia.”

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The top prizes for the international competition went to Krithik Ramesh of Colorado, while Allison Jia of California and Rachel Seevers of Kentucky received the two Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards; Shriya Reddy of Michigan took home the Craig R. Barrett Award for Innovation. 

There are no hard feelings on Layson’s part, however. She once said in an interview with the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF) that: “You don’t join research competitions just because you want to win… You must have a goal: After this completion, I want to help this kind of population.” Layson is part of the pioneering batch of students to be awarded the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation Young Scientist Award. GBF, in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) sponsored the Filipino delegation to attend the 2019 ISEF. Layson also won Best Individual Research in Life Science at the 2019 National Science and Technology Fair hosted by DepEd.

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Hannah Lazatin
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