Scientia visits the Organic Synthesis and Supramolecular Chemistry Laboratory (OSSCL) from the Institute of Chemistry!
Features | Tet-Tet Pua
Photos courtesy of Dr. Paderes
Editor’s note: This article also appeared on Scientia’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines, the University of the Philippines Diliman Institute of Chemistry (IChem) was one of several bodies who stepped up to help tame the worsening situation. In April 2020, a team of chemists led by IChem faculty members produced more than 100 liters of alcohol sanitizers donated to UP Diliman constituents and to the Philippine General Hospital. 
Among those IChem faculty members is Dr. Monissa Paderes, head of the institute’s Organic Synthesis and Supramolecular Chemistry Laboratory (OSSCL). As the pandemic continued, Dr. Paderes and the whole institute dealt with way more than just aiding in sanitizer production. Throughout the year, the IChem laboratories faced major hurdles and restraints.
“The pandemic gravely affected our research operations. Skeleton workforce was implemented not just in our lab but in all facilities where our much-needed characterizations and analyses are performed,” shares Dr. Paderes.
Dr. Paderes is one of the very few scientists in the Philippines who is pursuing synthetic organic chemistry. True to her laboratory’s name, her research team designs and synthesizes small organic molecules and polymeric materials for various applications. Specifically, the lab focuses on rational design and synthesis of organic compounds with biological significance, on creation of rheology modifiers for industrial applications, and on development and fabrication of novel photo-responsive materials.
OSSCL’s research progress depends highly on experimental results, so the adjustments brought by the pandemic translated to significant delays in their deliverables and aims. As a response, the team has been scheduling and planning their activities way ahead of time. “In order not to lose productivity, we try to do as much experiments as we can and focus on results consolidation and writing papers.”
Overcoming challenges in one’s research endeavors is not new to Dr. Paderes. Three years ago, when she was just in her sixth month as an IChem faculty member, she started OSSCL with a small budget and just one research associate.
“I didn’t care much whether it is a small or big funding. I was focused on setting up my lab. It was in January of 2018 that I got my first funding from NSRI. I got several projects approved for funding… That is when my lab started to grow.” she recalls.
Today, OSSCL is “well-equipped and well-staffed”, as described by IChem newbie Dr. Michelle Regulacio who joined the institute in 2019. Dr. Regulacio hopes the same for her own IChem lab, the newly set-up Functional Inorganic Nanomaterials Chemistry Laboratory.
OSSCL now has five research associates and is looking to hire two more. It is also the home of three more graduate students who are also instructors at the institute, and a project officer who manages the laboratory procurements. About ten undergraduate students are currently seeking to finish their theses in OSSCL with Dr. Paderes.
Dr. Paderes’ COVID-19 response efforts continue with OSSCL’s relatively new project in line with medicinal chemistry: the rational design of SARS-CoV-2/ACE2 inhibitors. They are in an active collaboration with scientists from Taiwan’s National Sun Yat-sen University with the goal to identify drugs against COVID-19.
The lab’s drug discovery program extends with its project that works on chemical modifications of natural products as anti-cancer agents. It aims to obtain clinical candidate/s with optimum efficacy and physico-chemical properties and toxicity profile.
Proving to be multidisciplinary, the lab also has collaborative projects with Dr. Giovanni Tapang of UP Diliman National Institute of Physics (NIP) where they target to successfully design and fabricate novel and functional organic materials that could largely impact the materials science and energy industry. Furthermore, OSSCL is presently designing and developing low molecular weight organic compounds to explore their potential industrial applications as structurants or rheology modifiers for perfumes, cosmetics and detergents.
“My motivation has always been to share and apply my expertise here in the Philippines and build collaborative ties with both local and international scientists,” says Dr Paderes, who obtained her PhD in State University of New York, Buffalo and her master’s degree in University of South Carolina, Columbia. “As we continue to advance our research, we hope to… facilitate the discovery of life-saving therapeutics and develop novel compounds that are valuable to [the] materials industry.”
While COVID-19 brought difficulties to OSSCL’s system, the lab’s researchers persist in helping to provide solutions to national and global problems, and in mentoring and encouraging students to fully engage in research.