Thursday, March 14, 2019 12:00 AM    Views : 280by:BusinessMirror

Last updated on March 14th, 2019 at 02:45 pm

Based on recent data released by the Department of Health and the Philippine Cancer Society Inc., nine Filipinos are diagnosed with cancer every hour.

The good news is: President Duterte recently signed Republic Act 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act.  The new law pursues to implement a national framework to fight cancer.

A few days after the president enacted the law, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) released the finding of a study, which said that a certain species of seaweed thriving in the country’s water may have anticancer benefits.

“Researchers from the University of Santo Tomas found that polysaccharides extracted from Codium species, locally known as pukpuklo [a seasonally available seaweed], are effective against cancer cells and destructive enzymes associated with cancer metastasis,” said a press statement released by the DOST.


The researchers, headed by Dr. Ross Dizon Vasquez, evaluated the inhibitory potential of the polysaccharide fractions isolated from Codium species. They found that “the seaweed fights destructive enzymes that aid metastasis or spread of cancer to different parts of the body.”

Polysaccharides are carbohydrates such as starch, cellulose, or glycogen whose molecules consist of a number of sugar molecules bonded together. These kinds of carbohydrates are used by the body in storing energy, sending cellular messages or for providing support to cells and tissues.

The Codium species used in the study were collected in Ilocos Norte, Aklan, Iloilo, and Cagayan province. 

Pukpuklo, a favorite Ilokano dish, is known as a good source of dietary fiber, amino acids, and minerals. However, little is known about its medicinal value, and further studies have yet to be conducted to explore its use in the field of medicine.

Last year, the medical research was also on the limelight when Dr. Annabelle V. Briones shared her study showing the possibility of carrageenan as a valuable agent in gene delivery/therapy.


Carrageenan is an indigestible carbohydrate extracted from edible seaweeds.  In her study, Dr. Briones used those extracted from red seaweeds (particularly the Eucheuma variety).

Gene therapy is a method of introducing new genetic material (DNA) into the diseased cells of an individual with the intention of producing therapeutic benefits for the patient. This kind of therapy has been around for decades, but scientists have seen little success with this technology because gene transfer is a very delicate and complicated process.

In her study, Dr. Briones found that carrageenan, specifically the iota type, may be used as a potential gene delivery vehicle when it was tested as a “coating” material for DNA in cultured cells (in vitro). 

According to her, the coating made from the iota carrageenan was able to protect the DNA as it remains stable and viable during the gene transfer process. She added that the iota carrageenan has the highest transfection efficiency compared to the other two types of carrageenan, the kappa and the lambda. 


The iota carrageenan has the “best release capability” of the DNA material into the target cells, said Dr. Briones, who was given an Achievement Award (Chemical Sciences Division) by the National Research Council of the Philippines in 2016.

Seaweeds are marine plants that grow abundantly in shallow reef flats and in lagoons with a water depth of less than 2 meters at high tide. They differ from plants because they lack the stems, leaves, roots and vascular systems that are common in higher plants.

Technically, seaweeds are “multicellular” forms of algae and are classified into three main divisions: brown algae, red algae and green algae. Brown algae, commonly called “kelp,” are the largest variety. Pacific species can reach 65 meters in length and have structures that superficially resemble leaves and stems.

On the other hand, red algae are composed of several species, including the Irish moss. They are abundant in clear tropical waters.  Meanwhile, green algae—which are sometimes called “sea lettuce”—are commonly seen at low tide, along rocky shores in northern seas.

In the Philippines, some 390 species have been identified as having economic value as food, animal feeds, fertilizers, diet supplement, medicines and raw materials for industrial products.

At least 60 Philippine varieties are reportedly edible, including gulamang dagat, gamet, pocpoclo, culot, lato, guso, barls-barls, bulaklak bato and balbalolang. Some of these varieties can be processed into jams, jellies, candies, pickles, baby’s food and gulaman bars.

The food value of seaweeds varies in different species. Average chemical analyses of 46 species of marine algae in the Philippines show that the crude protein content (percentage of dry weight) is 7.44, 6.40 and 9.29 for the green, brown and red seaweeds, respectively. This is about two to three times the protein content of common green leafy vegetables, which is 3.27-percent dry weight.

Four species—Halimada, Hypnea, Sargassum, and Asparagopsis—have been used as feed or fodder for livestock. Species of Cladophora, Enteromorpha, Chaetomorpha, and Gracilaria are used to supplement or substitute for fish food for cultured herbivorous fish.

Seaweeds have also some medicinal values. They are used to treat or prevent goiter, glandular troubles, stomach disorders, intestinal and bladder difficulties, unusually profuse menstrual flow, high blood pressure and high plasma-cholesterol level. Gracilaria species are used locally as pain relievers and ointments.

Commercially, seaweeds are valued for their colloids or gluey substance, particularly agar, carrageenan and algin. Both agar and carrageenan are extracted from red seaweeds, while algin is extracted from brown seaweeds.

Agar, which derived its name from the Malay word for seaweed, agar-agar, is used in making jellied desserts, as stabilizer in pie fillings, piping gels, icings, cookies, cream shells, and as thickening and gelling agent in poultry, fish and meat canning.

In the medical and pharmaceutical industries, agar serves as a laxative, suspending agent for barium sulfate in radiology, ingredient for slow-release capsules and in suppositories and surgical lubricants, and as a disintegrating agent in tablets. It is also used as impression materials to make accurate casts in prosthetic dentistry, criminology and tool manufacturing.

Carrageenan, on the other hand, is used in making ointments, as a stabilizing agent in frozen dairy products, as emulsifying agent in water-insoluble drugs and herbicides, and as texturing agent in toothpaste and powder. The Philippines is the world’s top carrageenan exporter. 

Algin or alginic acid, meanwhile, is used as another stabilizing agent for several food products, as a sizing agent in paper manufacture, and as thickening agent in print pastes and painting coatings. 


S & T Trivia

" Wilmo Orejola, a Filipino surgeon, created the harmonic scalpel, an ultrasonic surgical knife that doesn't burn flesh. He has more than a dozen medical and toy patents in the US and in the Philippines. Francis Duhaylongsod, a Filipino heart surgeon in Hawaii, invented an operation called minimally-invasive cardiac surgery. This uses smaller cuts into the body, reducing the nine-week recovery period to two. "

Online Resources
© copyright 2012 All rights reserved.