Former DOST Secretary William G. Padolina heads P1.9 billion project aimed at boosting “knowledge economy.”(Growth Publishing for PCARI-CHED)

The government is pouring P1.92 billion for the development of state-of-the art technologies  in health and infrastructure including sensors to monitor cardiopulmonary functions and an information system that will automate irrigation in Philippines’ farms.

These projects are a Duterte Administration’s shot at introducing innovations in industries through “knowledge economy,” a value generated from intellectual capital, which has been the major driver of Silicon Valley-California (SVC) economy.

The SVC by itself had a $7.6 billion investment as of 2011 and accounted for 49% of California and 12% of the entire United States patents.

Seven new projects have been approved under the Philippine California Advanced Research Institute (PCARI), a program of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Dr. William G. Padolina, PCARI executive director, told a Science writing workshop of Growth Publishing and CHED.

“This is a new approach to enhance capacity of higher education institutions (HEIs) and R&D (research and development) that translates to technological innovations for addressing our societal problems,” said Padolina, a former Department of Science Technology secretary.

PCARI tied research & development (R&D) projects between University of California (UC) and eight Philippine universities. UC alone generates $46.3 billion in annual economic activity for California and $32.8 billion in gross state product as reported by Economic & Planning Systems.

Padolina presented the PCARI projects to 61 aspiring science journalists led by Adrian Luis M. Lubrin of the Mandaluyong Science High School and Ryan Evan Estano of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

Arrythmia sensor

The sensor specifically called “wearable cardiac arrythmia monitor” is aimed to be a low-cost device compared to what is currently available in the market.

It is critical to have a device to monitor cardiopulmonary functions as part of treating arrhythmia which is indicated by irregular heart beat that raises a patient’s risk of stroke and heart failure.

The cardiac monitor should be suitable for wearing over long hours and should have low power consumption

PCARI has awarded an R&D aid for this monitor as cardiac diseases are the highest rated mortality cause in the Philippines with atrial fibrillation (arrhythmia)  as the most common form.

“This project aims to address the critical need in managing cardiovascular diseases which have been identified by the Department of Health as the top diseases in terms of mortality rate.  The low cost nature of such devices means that it can benefit patients with vastly different financial and social

background,” according to a PCARI primer.

Irrigation information system

For the water information system for irrigation, an observatory will be built in order to provide real-time information on soil (moisture, for instance), meteorological (atmospheric) and hydrologic (surface and subsurface water source) conditions in the farm.

With the system’s ability to accurately determine environmental conditions, automation of irrigation of farms based on a programmed schedule becomes possible.

The other  PCARI projects are a fabrication facility for prototype sensors ; a device for water purification using porous activated grapheme nanofilters (for  water purification and desalination); mobile health diagnostic and epidemiologic (disease spread and control) surveillance tool; and the establishment of a Philippine Cancer Phenome-Biobanking System and Biomonitoring Program.

Water purification

The water purification project will develop a design for “graphene” based materials  for producing materials and devices in water purification and desalination.

“Computational materials modelling can predict properties before materials are synthesized in the laboratory.  This accelerates discovery of new materials and allows experiments to focus on promising technologies determined from simulations.”

Graphene-based materials are seen to be a solution to global water crisis as these allows water and other liquids to be purified at an estimated rate of nine times faster than top commercial filters.

“Graphene is a lattice of carbon atoms so thin it’s considered to be two-dimensional. It has been hailed as a ‘wonder-material’ because of its incredible performance characteristics and range of potential applications,” according to Nature Communications.

Portable sensor

The technology for portable sensor will build a facility to fabricate prototype sensors and other devices to be used by the academe and industry.

“The project aims to develop novel portable and low-power graphene-based gas sensors using wafer-level packaging processes for applications on cell phones, wearable devices, and internet of things (IoT).”

This has application in various industries as environmental monitoring (such as of nitrogen dioxide, an air pollutant)  and transportation monitoring and control.

“Gas sensor operating in part-per billion (ppb) range is required for environmental monitoring of nitrogen dioxide. Currently there is a lack of cheap sensors, which can operate in this concentration range,” reported Science Direct.

Mobile diagnostic tool

The mobile health tool will create a digital collaboration space where each professional group (medicine, veterinary medicine, and agriculture) will “contribute specialized knowledge for use on a mobile app.”

This app will be made available on handy smart phones to be used by community health workers, livestock and agricultural extension workers.  The app will enable policy makers to adopt policies on speedy delivery of service to communities and monitor allocation and use of government resources.

Cancer-phenome biobanking

The Philippine Cancer Phenome-Biobanking System and Biomonitoring Program will provide health workers access to relevant patient information, supply of human tissue samples, human cell culture materials, and data on threatening levels of endocrine disruptors in Filipinos.

“As part of the biobanking system, two new extensions will be set up—the human cell repository system and the biomonitoring program.”

Once established, it can be run by St Luke’s Medical Center which will expand collection of the center.

Capability building

Memorandum of agreement (MOA) has been forged by CHED with UC in its campuses in Berkeley, San Francisco, Davis, and Los Angeles. CHED’s budget release for PCARI was sanctioned by the General Appropriations Act of 2013. The program will last for five years—until 2018.

PCARI’s capacity building for research and development (R&D) entails training of 968 personnel with a P499.24 million budget. Specialists here will be trained on scientific writing, research administration, laboratory management, and courseware development.

The eight Philippine universities, also called HEIs (higher education institutions), are University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Mapua Institute of Technology, Mindanao State University, National University, Technological Institute of the Philippines, and Centro Escolar University.

PCARI also has a connectivity network called PCARI Research and Instructional Infrastructure for Mentoring and Collaboration (PRIME) that will connect 19 HEIs nationwide. Among these PRIME HEIs are Aurora State College of Technology, Ateneo de Naga University, Batangas State University, Mariano Marcos State University, Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology, Palawan State University, Siliman University,UP-Baguio, and Xavier University.

PCARI has targets for scholarships for 163 slots broken down into 79 for infrastructure (under the Institute for Information Infrastructure Development or IIID) and 84 for Institute for Health Innovation and Translational Medicine (IHITM).

The scholarships are for master of science, doctorate, and postdoctorate studies in the Philippines and at UC campuses. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)