“Mahirap. Lalo na kapag hindi mo alam kung ano ba talaga ang dapat gamutin. O kung saan magsisimula para malaman ang sakit niya.” Bernardo De Leon, 35, approached the Nutritional Genomics team after a lay forum in Philippine Heart Center last December. Despair is palpable in Bernardo’s voice while carrying his newborn daughter with a yet to be diagnosed metabolic disease.
"Sana available na iyong mga test na na-discuss ninyo kanina, kahit paano makakita kami ng pag-asa,” De Leon added, as the team resorted to asking for his contact numbers. Although at that time, the team seemed uncertain about what kind of help he needs, assurance was made that he will be informed about the progress on the endeavors the group will undertake.
De Leon’s daughter is just one of the growing cases of congenital disorders in the country. In 2006, March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization advocating for maternal and child health, reported that the prevalence of congenital disorders was 52.9 per 1000 live births in the Philippines.
This number is expected to rise annually.
The era of genomic medicine in the Philippines
De Leon and thousands of other parents in the Philippine can now see a ray of hope as genomics medicine continues to create a buzz in the public health scene.
The application of genomics for the promotion of health and prevention of public health problems started in the Philippines upon the establishment of the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) in 2009. The Center paved the way for the development of diagnostic kits for the early detection of infectious and non-communicable diseases.
Following the initiatives of the PGC, the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) ventured into genome-based nutrition research in 2010.
Bringing genomic science closer to the people
A decade after its inception, DOST-FNRI will launch genome-based nutrition counselling and laboratory services to the public on February 19, 2020, at the Makati Diamond Residences. These services will be available to all Filipinos through the Nutritional Genomics (NuGen) Laboratory by July 2020. Through these laboratory services, clinicians will have additional tools to explain the roles of genes in weight management, metabolism, and other nutrition-related health consequences.
Nutritional genomics, as the field is collectively called, is the application of genomic technologies in nutrition research. The science deals with genetic responses as individuals consume diets.
For one, nutritional genomics is a healthcare innovation that promises the prevention of diseases through personalizing a person’s diet. Customizing the diet is based on an individual’s nutritional requirement, nutritional status, and genotype.
A genotype is the collection of genes that are responsible for defining a person’s genetic characteristics.
The rapid development of genomics and its corresponding science-based services in the Philippines sheds new light on parents like Bernardo. This progress offers more possibilities for the diagnosis and management of early-life diseases that are linked with the human genome.
“Salamat po.” That sounded a decibel higher than a hush but audible enough to be heard inside the descending elevator.
It was a man’s voice. Everyone inside the lift searched for that man who just uttered a heartfelt gratitude.
It was Bernardo, still carrying his daughter. He gave us a shy but hopeful smile.
The team waved and returned a beam.
He waved back with his free arm.
For that one last glance before alighting from the elevator, the team saw that free arm holding tight to the business cards we managed to hand him back at the forum.