Denise Daley is Young Scientist of the Year

SRC names slew of science, technology innovators

BY PENDA HONEYGHAN Career & Education writer honeyghanp@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, November 19, 2016

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DR Denise Daley is in love with plants. This she discovered at age 14 during biology classes at Holy Childhood High when the focus was on how plants make their food and contribute to the water cycle.

As the years passed, Daley’s interest deepened, ultimately settling on the use of plants as medicine.


Her efforts culminated on Wednesday, when the National Commission on Science and Technology named her - a pharmacognosist (natural product scientist) and programme director at the College of Health Sciences at the University of Technology, Jamaica - Young Scientist of the Year 2016 for her work with the eucalyptus plant.


"I always loved plants, but in second form my biology teacher inspired an even greater interest in science. My inquisitive mind was developed and I just loved learning about how the body works or how a plant makes its food. As a result, I began doing even better and that zeal never left.


"[In fact] my first university essay in the course Foundation English at the University of the West Indies, Mona, was on traditional medicine, its use, and relevance, and it was after that research I knew that for sure that I wanted to work with plants as medicine," Dr Daley told the Jamaica Observer following the National Medals for Science and Technology awards ceremony at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in Kingston.


She won the award ahead of her colleagues Dr Stacey Stephenson, an assistant lecturer in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences at The UWI, Mona; and Dr Nickeisha Stephenson, a lecturer in the department of Chemistry, also at The UWI, Mona.


The former Dr Stephenson’s work highlights approaches to addressing the increasing incidence of urinary tract infections through innovative approaches in controlling the causative agent — E-Coli — using advanced molecular techniques. Dr Nickeisha Stephenson, meanwhile, focused on a non-invasive approach to diagnosing, staging and detecting diseases such as cancer, heart, and disease linked to the central nervous system using a new methodology referred to as Positron Emission Tomography.


At least nine local scientists working in several STEAM-based areas (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) were also awarded for new or improved innovations.


These include: Oswald Smith in the area of Education and Popularisation of Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Google Transit implementation for JUTC; Conrad Brown in the area of energy for LED street lamps; Paul Jackson and Ceretsie Rowe-Campbell in Environmental Sustainability for the environment focus recycling Machine and sustainable food cart (Maroon Kitchen) respectively; Oral and Allison Turner for Agriculture, Food and Agro-processing with the sorrel harvesting machine; Chadwick Barclay in the area of Youth Innovation for a low-cost navigation system for the visually impaired or blind; Omar Samuels for ICT and Electronics (with special focus on cyber security) for his safety forecast system - Chaperon; Mark Bennett, in the area of Engineering and Manufacturing for the Active Regulator Generator Plus (ARG); and Dr Henry Lowe for Health and Safety.


Dr Lowe also copped the award for Innovator of the Year for the production of the drug Alpha Prostate Formula II, formulated with the extract from the Jamaican Moss Ball (Old man beard) which has shown significant bioactivity against prostate cancer cells and negligible toxicity against normal cells. The product also promotes good prostate health.


The awards were established in 2005 and are now a biennial event intended to celebrate achievements, stimulate creativity and energise the growth and development of innovations in science and technology which can in turn support and enhance the Government’s science and technology policy. The awards also seek to identify, recognise as well as facilitate intellectual property and protection and the commercialisation of innovations originated from individuals and institutions in and of Jamaica.


For Daley, being named Young Scientist of the Year serves to further her goal of "validating Jamaican bush medicine and the use of plants as medicine via research".


Her research is entitled: The Development of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods from Hypoglycaemic and Hypotensive Compounds Isolated from Eucalyptus. It was thought through even before her admittance into the post-graduate biochemistry programme at The UWI, Daley said, as she has always dreamt of a way to help her grandmother and others who suffer from diabetes.


The programme, which was under the supervision of Dr Ruby Lisa Alexander-Lindo, Dr Trevor Yee (co-supervisor) and Professor Paul Reese (advisor), a team which she credits for support, allowed her to explore and later discover groundbreaking information that would cement her belief in the oral traditions of herbal medicinal prowess as well as create new hope for people who suffer from diabetes and hypertension.


She noted that type II diabetes is prevalent in a wide age range across the world and affects people between the ages 15 and 74 years in Jamaica. However, Dr Daley pointed out that this gap is still widening and said her goal was to address what is an area of growing concern through a fusion of traditional medicines and science and technology.


"Basically, I wanted to do plant research for new medicine. I also wanted to prove or get evidence that brings truth to the use of the plant [eucalyptus]. Is it really helping or is it "mind over matter"? This study involved the use of animals (rats), where the rats were given the eucalyptus extract and the blood glucose and blood pressure observed and recorded. After data analysis, this corroborated its use in herbal medicine for these ailments," Dr Daley reported.


She noted that having established a clear principle and trajectory for the path of the research within years of her starting date she had answers that catapulted her to the PhD programme.


"In the PhD programme I was able to broaden the scope of my study. I identified all the other parameters, active compounds, dosages and other related information, this time again within record time. The research, [yielding the results it did] received a patent from the United States of America with over 40 claims," Dr Daley told Career & Education.


But even with her remarkable results and commendations she struggled to source funding for her project. Still, the experience gifted her a valuable lesson.


"If I had more funding much more could have been done in that time frame, such as purchase equipment, but it taught me as a graduate student to prioritise, execute strategic plans and make realistic goals to meet the objectives. Once each objective was met, the project would eventually take its form. It was the end product that mattered most and regardless of the time in which it took form, the important thing is that it was all happening like I anticipated," Dr Daley said.


It was these exciting results that led her to submit her research to the Scientific Research Council to be considered, and Wednesday’s win has whetted her appetitite.


"Honestly, after getting some exciting results after an experiment, I said to my lab colleagues I want to be known for contributing to research. I want my work to be known, to impact and to help control or treat diabetes and I was so serious. I want to help so [many people] affected [by] diabetes, including my grandmother, so I worked to achieve this using plants and will continue," she said.


In terms of her career goals, Daley intends to not only be a natural product or herbal consultant but also a clinical consultant for the use of plants as medicine.


In the meantime, she says in an effort to stay true to one of her passions, which is to inspire science, she has started to set the stage for a foundation dedicated to empowering students through science via a weekly commitment of four hours teaching young people at Quality Academics. She is also seeking to enter the commercial space with products which have been formulated to meet the health demands of those with diabetes and hypertension.


"I am also looking to procure sponsorship and major investors for the mass production of items such as the diabetic margarine, cooking oil, mayonnaise, blended eucalyptus teas, tincture, and capsules which assist with the lowering and control of blood glucose concentration and the lowering or stabilising the blood pressure as well as natural exfoliating soaps," she said, noting that she hopes the search for financiers this time around will be a lot less challenging than the experience while completing her research.


See related story on Page 9.

 


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