UPD College of Science responds to COVID-19

| Written by Jo. Florendo B. Lontoc

UP Diliman College of Science Building. Photo by Nadine Lim, UP Photography Society.

 

The UP Diliman College of Science (UPD-CS) expressed its appreciation for its constituents who are actively helping the country respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Facebook post, the College enumerated their efforts, which include lending equipment for COVID-19 testing, producing personal protective equipment (PPEs), donating supplies for frontliners and public hospitals, modeling disease transmission and ventilator production, and deploying personnel to testing centers.

“In this time of crisis, we are all called to help our fellow countrymen. The College is lucky to have students, faculty, researchers and staff who are willing to lend a hand in any way they can,” the Facebook post dated March 23, time-stamped 6:47 PM, said.

“All these efforts are being done because our standing mandate as UP scientists is to make science serve the people. We offer our expertise, services, and laboratories to the Filipino people in the hope of providing solutions to our current crisis,” CS Associate Dean Lillian Jennifer Rodriguez told the UP Media and Public Relations Office.

Experienced personnel

According to Rodriguez, the Institute of Biology (IB) and the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (NIMBB) of the College have been tapped by both public and private sectors for experienced personnel who can be trained to perform COVID-19 tests.

“We are proud of our people who will be joining the frontline in the fight against this virus,” the College’s Facebook post read. It added that the personnel will be trained for accreditation by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) of the Department of Health (DOH) before deployment to different testing centers.

“We are asking the UP Diliman community and the Filipino people to please pray for their safety,” the College said.

Meanwhile, Dr. AC Yago and Dr. Emily Castriciones of the Institute of Chemistry (IC) have been tapped by the Quezon City local government for advice on disinfection and cleaning strategies.

Equipment for COVID-19 testing

“The NIMBB, through Dr. Rey Garcia, and the Natural Sciences Research Institute (NSRI), through Dr. Cora de Ungria, have lent or will be lending their qPCR machines to satellite testing centers,” Rodriguez said. The machines are needed side by side with the test kits currently being used by the RITM.

To ensure the quality of the tests, these qPCR machines are recalibrated by CS personnel upon transfer to the satellite testing centers, Rodriguez added.

PPE and supplies

At the National Institute of Physics(NIP), CS Dean Giovanni Tapang leads 3D printing of disposable face shields for donation to public hospitals. He is also trying out designs to facilitate the printing.

“We also have Dr. Chelo Pascua and Dr. Cherry Ringor working with Dr. Mahar Lagmay and UP Resilience Institute (UPRI) on the 3D printing of face masks,” Tapang said.

Laboratories of the IB, IC, NIMBB, NSRI, and Marine Science Institute (MSI) are also donating supplies needed by public hospitals and frontliners. These include surgical masks, gloves, and disinfectants such as alcohol and bleach.

“We have donated a first batch of these supplies to the UP Health Service, a second batch to PGH [Philippine General Hospital],” Dr. Rodriguez reported. “We have a third batch that we will most likely give to either PGH or RITM.”

MSI professor and former UP System vice president for academic affairs Dr. Gisela Concepcion also donated naso-oral sprays to PGH.

Disease transmission modeling

“When we first met with several experts of the College, our initial objective was to provide a disease transmission model to try to suggest the next best move to UP administration and the national government administration,” Rodriguez said.

Dr. Aurelio delos Reyes of the Institute of Mathematics reported: “The Modeling and Applications group of the IM is currently working on modeling and applying optimal control theory. Estimation of basic reproduction number (R0) and flattening the curve through different simulations are simulated.”

Modeling is also being done by NIP faculty and students led by Dr. Johnrob Bantang.

Preliminary results have been communicated to Lagmay of the UPRI.

“Of course, Dr. Mahar’s work in UPRI is another story altogether,” Tapang added.

The CS dean is also involved in a modeling initiative for ventilation of public hospitals.

Care and advice from experts

The CS is making sure its own home is safe. “We are making sure that people from our College are following the guideline to stay at home by restricting access to the buildings from March 11, 2020 until April 14, 2020,” Rodriguez said.

“Only people with an extraordinary need to go to Diliman, such as researchers maintaining live animals and cell cultures, are allowed entry into our buildings.”

Rodriguez added that CS students in dormitories in and outside the campus and guards on duty are being provided food packs and toiletries.

She offered an expert’s opinion on outbreaks such as COVID-19:

“We biologists know that viruses like SARS-CoV-2 are abundant in nature. But if we continue invading animals’ natural environments or forcibly taking animals outside of nature, we only increase the risk of exposing ourselves to new strains or new types of viruses that we have never encountered before,” Rodriguez said.

“In light of this crisis, my call as an ecologist is to leave Nature be. We have already taken too much from her.”

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