High school student Arianwen Ledesma-Rollan saw how her grandmother waged, and lost, a costly and painful battle against pancreatic cancer.
The pain of losing a loved one fueled her search for an inexpensive cure for cancer.
She started looking at her own backyard and focused on Moringa oleifera (malunggay) seeds, which have been reported to contain natural agents that could fight cancer.
Her research, which she also conducted as an investigatory project to fulfill a requirement for her Life Science subject in school, was cited during the 2016 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair at Phoenix, Arizona, United States of America from May 8 to 13.
Rollan, 17, was the only Filipino among the 10 awardees who received the Special Award from the Qatar Foundation for Research and Development during the fair.
“Wala ko mag-expect nga makadaog kay (I did not expect to win because) I was in the infraction list and I was afraid that I would never get to display my project,” she recalled.
“Being in the infraction list means that the Scientific Review Committee had concerns about my project,” she added.
Being one of the special awardees is not a small feat for this incoming Grade 11 student at the Cebu City National Science High School.
The 2016 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is a program of Society for Science and the Public that invites high school students around the globe to share their original ideas, showcase cutting-edge research and compete for more than $4 million in awards and scholarships.
At least 1,700 young innovators from 419 affiliate fairs in 77 countries, regions and territories participated in the science showcase.
Rollan, who plans to become an obstetrician, said she was inspired by her grandmother, Amada Ledesma, 75, who died of pancreatic cancer five years ago.
She said her grandmother suffered for 10 months. Her medicines and treatment were very expensive.
“I saw that Moringa (malunggay) is very common in Cebu. There are claims that the plant can help fight certain illnesses but it doesn’t have any study to back it. That’s why I chose to do this project,” she said.
Rollan said she took an extract from the crushed malunggay seeds and injected it in a chick embryo. Then she observed it for 36 hours.
She said she noticed that the tumor did not spread after the malunggay seed extract stopped the development of the blood vessel.
She explained that tumors are often developed due to angiogenesis or the development of new blood vessels in pre-existing vessels.
Based on her research, malunggay seeds have potential anti-tumor agent.
Her project won first prize in their school fair, besting 50 other investigatory projects in their school.
After she won at the science fair at both division and regional levels, she competed in the National Science and Technology Fair sponsored by the Department of Education (DepEd) in Tagaytay City.
Her victory at the national level gave her the golden ticket to be a part of the Philippine delegation to compete in the 2016 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix.
She ended as the only Filipino to receive a special award which went with a certificate and a cash prize of $1,000.
Rollan said she planned to use her prize money to continue her research because it was still in the preliminary stages.
But she was hoping that her achievement would inspire other young innovators not to stop what they were doing despite the lack of government support.
“We were the only ones who were not sponsored by their own government but still we were selected,” she said.
“I just hope the Philippine government would further this research so that it can help those who are in need of medicines to help fight tumor,” she said.