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Pinay pioneers in biomedical and marine research win TOWNS 2022 Award

Two of the 11 winners of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) 2022 are both experts in life sciences from the UPD-CS.

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From the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to the forefront of ocean research, Filipina scientists from the University of the Philippines – Diliman College of Science (UPD-CS) are leading the country and the world in life sciences.

Two of the 11 winners of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) 2022 are both experts in life sciences from the UPD-CS. As Director of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (NIMBB), Dr. Pia D. Bagamasbad has been a key player in the country’s pandemic response, while the Marine Science Institute’s (MSI’s) Dr. Aletta T. Yñiguez has continually been helping to improve the lives of fisherfolk and uplift the country’s fisheries sector through her work in marine ecology.

Spearheading Philippine COVID-19 response

With her years of extensive experience in using RT-PCR for various biomedical applications and assays, Dr. Bagamasbad quickly rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on, she was able to train over a hundred medical technologists from dozens of testing laboratories and hospitals across the country in the use of RT-PCR testing. She is also deeply involved in research towards better understanding the molecular basis of hormone action and hormone-dependent cancers. As a researcher, she continually advocates government support for STEM practitioners, especially women scientists.

“My vision is for our country to get to a point where we have eliminated most, if not all, barriers to scientific progress, and prioritized the development of STEM professionals to give them enough motivation to stay,” Dr. Bagamasbad says.

ARAICoBeH, HABHub help empower fisherfolk

Meanwhile, Dr. Yñiguez is a well-known advocate of sustainable fishing practices and a staunch defender of marine ecology and biodiversity. Her marine research is focused on developing technologies and practices that can help oversee and protect coastal ecosystems, including an early-warning system for harmful algal blooms called HABHub. She and her team also developed a coastal monitoring system, officially called “A Rapid Assessment Instrument for Coastal Benthic Habitats”—but affectionately referred to by its tongue-in-cheek acronym, ARAICoBeH—that provides a low-cost way to take underwater photos of endangered areas such as coral reefs. Ultimately, Dr. Yñiguez is working towards forging close partnerships between coastal communities and public and private entities so that the science can be mainstreamed.

“It’s understandable that we want to have more and better production for a growing population and for economic growth, but the science and technologies to ensure sustainability and thus the health of the ecosystems for marine resources should also go hand-in-hand with these,” Dr. Yñiguez explains.

Inspiring future Filipina scientists

As professors at the UP Diliman College of Science, Drs. Bagamasbad and Yñiguez both continually inspire young students to become the country’s next generation of scientists. Their TOWNS win is a testament to the country and to the world of what Filipinas can aspire to and achieve. 

Since 1974, the TOWNS Awards have been bestowed on outstanding Filipino women between the ages 21 to 50 years old who have contributed invaluably to the country’s economic, social, and cultural development, as well as to national security and unity. The Awards are given every three years by the TOWNS Foundation, a non-profit organization whose members are committed to using their experience, skills, and resources to improve quality of life and to serve as catalysts for national development.

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Young people who vape more likely to report chronic stress

Young people who use e-cigarettes had poorer quality of life but lower risks of some signs of ill health, such as high blood pressure, although these findings did not reach statistical significance.

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Young people who have used e-cigarettes are more than twice as likely to report experiencing chronic stress, according to a study by Dr Teresa To, a senior scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, Canada.

She said: “Research is starting to show how vaping affects young people’s physical and mental health. For example, our previous research has shown that those who vape are more likely to suffer an asthma attack. In this study we were particularly interested in the relationship between vaping, mental health and quality of life among young people.”

The researchers used data from the Canadian Health Measures Surveys, a national survey designed to represent the Canadian population. It included 905 people aged between 15 and 30 years, of which 115 (12.7%) said they had used e-cigarettes.

The data showed that although young people who vaped were more likely to be physically active, they were also more likely to report experiencing extreme chronic stress in their lives.

Dr To said: “Chronic stress can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. It’s important for young people experiencing chronic stress to be given support early on to help them avoid resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms like vaping or smoking. Vaping is not an effective way to cope with stress, but stress and anxiety can trigger vape cravings, and make it harder for a user to quit.”

The researchers point out that while their study shows a link between vaping and stress in young people, it does not show whether stress caused an increase in vaping, or whether vaping increased experiences of stress, or if another factor led to an increase in both. However, their research did take into account other factors that are known to influence stress, such as income, alcohol consumption and health conditions like asthma and diabetes.

Dr To added: “We do not know why young people using e-cigarettes tend to be more physically active, but it could be that they are trying to control their weight with exercise and believe vaping could help.”

The results also indicated that young people who use e-cigarettes had poorer quality of life but lower risks of some signs of ill health, such as high blood pressure, although these findings did not reach statistical significance.

“At the time of the study, this group of young people had good physical health overall; however, we need to study the effects of e-cigarettes in the longer term to understand their impact on young people’s health. We know that stress induces oxidative stress and inflammation in the body and these play an important role in the risk of developing chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Dr To added.

Professor Elif Dağlı, who is chair of the European Respiratory Society’s group on Tobacco, smoking control and health education, and was not involved in the research, said: “This study suggests a link between vaping and stress among young people, and it adds to what we already know about the effects of vaping on young people’s health. Vaping is still relatively new, but the numbers of children and young people using e-cigarettes are rising rapidly. We need more research on the impacts of vaping, but we also need to raise awareness of the harms of using e-cigarettes and provide support to help young people avoid or quit vaping.

“This is one of several studies about the effects of vaping that are being presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress. In particular, we will be examining the influence of favoured e-cigarettes and looking for ways to end the epidemic of vaping among children and adolescents.”

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Blackbough leads environmental awareness campaign with locals

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In the picturesque paradise of Siargao Island, Jemina Ty, the creative force behind the globally celebrated swimwear brand Blackbough, takes the helm as the leader spearheading a sustainability campaign, hand in hand with the local community.

With its pristine islands, stunning white sand beaches, and sprawling coconut fields, Siargao Island has captivated beach-lovers and adventure-seekers from all over the world. However, this idyllic destination in the southeastern region of the Philippines is facing threats due to plastic pollution and environmental degradation. In response, Blackbough recently organized a beach cleanup campaign to protect Siargao Island and raise awareness among locals and tourists alike.

Ty pointed out, “By 2050, there’s a good chance that we’ll see more plastic in the ocean than fish. That’s why through this initiative, we hope to create a chain reaction and encourage people to be more mindful of their actions and to make choices that nurture the environment.”

The Blackbough Swim Team led by Chief Executive Officer and Founder Jemina Ty accumulated a total of 100 sacks of plastic waste and debris during their coastal clean-up activity at Malinao Beach, General Luna, Siargao.

Under Ty’s leadership, Blackbough became a widely followed international swimwear brand with a heart for sustainability. The company is committed to reducing its environmental footprint by using recycled nylon, investing in ethical factories, repurposing scrap fabrics to accessories, and incorporating recyclable and reusable packaging options. By offering stylish and eco-friendly swimwear, Blackbough encourages customers to make more sustainable choices.

“At Blackbough, we believe that every journey towards sustainability begins with a single step. Leveraging Blackbough’s global presence, we aim to showcase the beauty of our Philippine islands and the importance of taking care of them.” 

The beach cleanup event took place at Malinao Beach, General Luna drawing over a hundred volunteers from diverse backgrounds, including tourists, locals, and stakeholders. Their collective effort resulted in the removal of 100 sacks of plastic waste and debris, offering participants a firsthand perspective on the detrimental effects of pollution on the island.

The Blackbough team, composed of young, creative, and passionate individuals who champion various causes such as marine life conservation and environmental preservation, includes team members based on Siargao Island. Ty acknowledged their commitment, saying, “Siargao is not just a location for us; it’s also home to many of our amazing team members. I recognize that it’s my responsibility to contribute positively to the communities and societies where we operate.”

Beyond cleaning up the beach, Blackbough’s campaign is a call to arms for travelers, environmental enthusiasts, and conscious consumers to begin their sustainability journey. Siargao Island is just the starting point for Blackbough’s beach cleanup initiatives, marking the launch of their Clean Beach Campaign, a series of beach cleanup activities in collaboration with various local communities across the Philippine islands as part of Blackbough’s advocacy for sustainability and environmental protection.

Ty believes in being proactive when it comes to addressing environmental issues. Ty emphasized, “I think that we should not wait for our beaches to reach a critical level of degradation before we act. We hope for everyone’s support as we pursue our mission to protect the country’s beaches. Together, we can make a lasting impact and inspire others to join us on this journey.”

As part of its journey towards sustainability, Blackbough has launched a fundraising drive dubbed “Donate to Clean our Coasts” on its website’s checkout page, running until mid-October. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised through this campaign will be dedicated to supporting the International Coastal Cleanup Philippines, a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to cleaning up marine debris and promoting ocean conservation. Blackbough has also pledged to match the cumulative donations made during the month of September.

To learn more about Blackbough’s fundraising initiative, please visit https://blackboughswim.com/pages/our-commitment.

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All work and no play will really make a dull life – research

‘Achievement’ and ‘conformity’ values had no impact on happiness whatsoever. However, the researchers believe achievement could impact on happiness when linked to job satisfaction or the amount of days worked.

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A study across three countries led by the Department of Psychology’s Dr Paul Hanel discovered people who prioritised achievement over enjoyment were less happy on the next day. Whereas those who aimed for freedom said they had a 13% increase in well-being, recording better sleep quality and life satisfaction. And participants who tried to relax and follow their hobbies recorded an average well-being boost of 8% and a 10% drop in stress and anxiety.

Dr Hanel worked with colleagues at the University of Bath on the Journal of Personality-published study. For the first time, it explored how following various values impacts our happiness.

Dr Hanel said: “We all know the old saying ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ and this study shows it might actually be true. There is no benefit to well-being in prioritising achievement over fun and autonomy. This research shows that there are real benefits to having a balanced life and taking time to focus on enjoying ourselves and following individual goals. Ironically by doing this, people could in fact be more successful as they will be more relaxed, happier and satisfied.”

The study –Value Fulfilment and Well-being: Clarifying Directions Over Time – examined more than 180 people in India, Turkey and the UK. They filled in a diary across nine days and recorded how following different values affected them.

Interestingly all nationalities reported the same results with the following of ‘hedonism’ and ‘self-direction’ values leading to increased happiness. ‘Achievement’ and ‘conformity’ values had no impact on happiness whatsoever. However, the researchers believe achievement could impact on happiness when linked to job satisfaction or the amount of days worked.

Professor Greg Maio, University of Bath, said: “This multination project was an exciting foray into questions about how values affect well-being in day-to-day life. People often spend most of their days working hard for their daily income, studies, and careers. Against this backdrop, where achievement-oriented values have ring-fenced a great portion of our time, we found that it helps to value freedom and other values just enough to bring in balance and recovery.”

In the future, it will be interesting to consider how this pattern interacts with relevant traits, such as conscientiousness, and situational contexts, such as type of employment, Maio added.

It is hoped the research will now influence mental health provision and influence therapeutic give to clients.

Dr Hanel added: “Our research further shows that it might be more important to focus on increasing happiness rather than reducing anxiety and stress, which is of course also important, just not as much.”

The study was published in collaboration with Hamdullah Tunç, Divija Bhasin, and Dr Lukas Litzellachner.

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