Sixteen-year-old Maria Isabel Layson recently competed at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) held in Phoenix, Arizona from May 12 to 17. She, along with 11 other Filipino delegates, was among 1,800 student scientists from over 80 countries to compete at what's lauded to be the world's largest pre-university science competition.
Layson, a student of the Iloilo National High School, listed her exceptional research on the anti-diabetic properties of aratiles (scientific name Muntingia calabura Linn or the Jamaican cherry in English) as an entry to the competition.
Layson anchored her study on the much-overlooked plant found in tropical countries such as Mexico, Bolivia, and the Philippines. Layson's motivation for the study came from her personal background, as several of her family members succumbed to diabetes. She discovered that while the plant, which grow in her backyard at home, has been studied for 22 years, current studies have yet to tap the plant's full potential as a medicinal resource.
Layson's research took her back and forth to Manila to complete experiments at the Food and Nutrition Research Institute laboratory. Eventually, she discovered that the aratiles fruit is a source of antioxidants and in practical application that can be directed towards the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus through the prevention of postprandial hyperglycemia.
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Her fellow Filipino delegates from Angeles City Science High School in Pampanga, Neil David Cayanan, Shaira Gozun, and E’van Relle Tongol, bagged an honorable mention at ISEF as they managed to impress the Acoustical Society of America with their project called “Hibla: An Alternative Sound Absorption Material.”
While she did not go home wth an award, there are no hard feelings on Layson's part. She once said in an interview with the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF), "You don't join research competitions just because you want to win. You must have a goal: after this completion, I want to help this kind of population."
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Layson is part of the pioneering batch of students to be awarded the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation Young Scientist Award. GBF, in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) sponsored the Filipino delegation to attend the 2019 ISEF. Layson also won Best Individual Research in Life Science at the 2019 National Science and Technology Fair hosted by DepEd.