Pineda-Cortel, Dagamac named 2022 Outstanding Young Scientists by NAST

Two Thomasian academic staff members, researchers, and alumni were named Outstanding Young Scientists by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST)- Philippines, the highest recognition body in the said field within the country on July 14, 2022.

Assoc. Prof. Maria Ruth Pineda-Cortel, Ph.D., from the Department of Medical Technology, and Asst. Prof. Nikki Heherson Dagamac, Dr.rer.nat, from the Department of Biological Sciences joined the roster of eleven Outstanding Young Scientists for the year 2022.

According to the NAST Philippines website, the Outstanding Young Scientist (OYS) Awards are given to Filipino scientists under 41 years of age who have made significant contributions to science and technology. It consists of a trophy and cash prize.

Pineda-Cortel’s expertise is on women’s diseases, particularly gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Her study of PCOS is on the current diagnostic methods being used for it, the risk factors associated with it, and its association with genetic polymorphisms. As for GDM, Pineda-Cortel heads a project funded by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) titled, “Blood and Placental Gene Expression in Gestational Diabetes Mellitus.” This research study aims to identify early biomarkers of GDM and emphasizes the importance of preventive prenatal healthcare to protect both the mother and the baby from the various complications that the said disease may bring.

Pineda-Cortel is currently involved as one of the Project Leaders of the Oplan Atletang Pinoy Program under the DOST-NICER (Niche Centers in the Regions for R&D), which aims to develop a local product that will be utilized for rapid wound healing and recovery by athletes suffering from musculoskeletal injuries and tendinopathy.

Having finished her Bachelor’s and Master of Science degrees in Medical Technology, and Doctor of Philosophy degree in Biological Sciences, all with distinctions, at the University of Santo Tomas, Pineda-Cortel currently teaches at the UST Faculty of Pharmacy and is a Resident Researcher at the Research Center for the Natural and Applied Sciences (RCNAS).

Recently, she took her postdoctoral fellowship under the US-ASEAN Science and Technology Fellowship program through the US Mission to ASEAN (US-ASEAN) in coordination with the US American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She also had her postdoctoral diplomacy under the ASEAN Science Diplomat program through the ASEAN and Environmental and Climate Change Research Institute.

Meanwhile, Dagamac studies the evolution, ecology, biogeography, and population genetics of tropical and subtropical slime molds. His investigations of the myxomycete compositions in terrestrial ecosystems of the Philippines and Paleotropical regions of the world increased the number of records of myxomycetes for the Philippines and supported the moderate endemicity hypothesis as a global biogeographic pattern for eukaryotic protists refuting the popular, ubiquitous model for microorganisms, respectively.

Currently, he is a long-term Balik-Scientist at the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science at the University of Santo Tomas. He translated his expertise in the fields of basic and applied ecology, evolution, and genetics in the development of the course plans of various technical courses in the Biology program. His knowledge on machine learning, ecological modeling and statistics, and population genetics became fundamental in drafting remote and virtual laboratory exercises in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology.

Apart from his academic duties, Dagamac is the program leader of two major research programs. The first program is the DOST-PCAARRD project which proposes wildlife conservation strategies, land use and evaluation, and the diversity of terrestrial protists and vertebrates in Occidental Mindoro. The second program, funded by the National Research Council of the Philippines, aims to study land use and evaluation, conservation of various endemic trees and flora in general, and the diversity of the terrestrial and marine protists in the province of La Union.

He obtained his Bachelor’s degree and Master of Science in Biological Sciences degrees from UST, and his Doctor of Natural Sciences degree from the University of Greifswald in Germany.