For twelve years now, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and LOréal, the world renowned cosmetic company, have cooperated to recognize and support the role of women in science. This year, Dr. Lourdes J. Cruz of the Philippines was among the five exceptional women scientists who were chosen out of more than a thousand nominees to receive the 2010 LOréal-UNESCO Awards in the Life Sciences. Dr. Lourdes J. Cruz was selected for her significant contributions to the discovery of marine snail toxins now used as molecular tools in studying how the brain works. Her studies provided the basis for the development of drugs against pain in cancer patients, epilepsy and other brain disorders. Dr. Cruz is the first Filipina to receive this award.
Dr. Cruz has collaborated in several IAEA technical cooperation projects to study Harmful Algae Blooms and paralytic shellfish poisoning - a serious illness caused by eating shellfish contaminated with algae that contains a toxin harmful to humans. Isotope-based techniques, supported through IAEA projects, help developing countries to detect outbreaks of Harmful Algae Blooms.
Dr. Cruz explains “Paralytic shellfish poisoning is a recurring problem in different parts of the Philippines. We have used the receptor binding assay (RBA) technique in the analysis of paralytic shellfish toxins and plan to use RBA techniques to assay other marine toxins. RBA of marine toxins was introduced to the Philippines by Dr. Fran Vandola, a consultant/expert from IAEA. The IAEA TC project we did with the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) involved the use of isotopic techniques in mitigating the effects of the recurring harmful algal blooms in the Philippines. Through the TC project, IAEA provided us with the high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) system now used for the analysis of paralytic toxins.”
Dr. Cruz has lectured at IAEA-sponsored national and regional training courses on the receptor binding assay technique used to detect the presence of paralytic shellfish toxins, and is actively pursuing the development of an alternative assay for paralytic shellfish poisoning using iodinated conotoxin.
At the awards ceremony on 4 March 2010 in Paris, Dr Cruz received a $100 000 prize for her contributions to scientific advancement in the field of life sciences. She has used the award to buy a piece of land that is being developed to serve as a new base for her rural livelihood laboratory for the indigenous people of the Philippines in an effort to preserve and tap into their vast knowledge of traditional medicine.