Ateneo Chemistry Professor and Chair Dr. Erwin Enriquez is National Science and Technology Week Outstanding Research and Development Awardee

March 12, 2021
By: 
Erika Alejar

Dr. Erwin Enriquez is awarded the Julian A. Banzon Medal for Applied Research in recognition of his outstanding scientific research entitled “Field-ready tools for fingerprinting of herbal materials for the medicinal plant industry,” a major boost to farmers and community-based suppliers.

Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Erwin P. Enriquez is lauded with the Julian A. Banzon Medal for Applied Research, a distinction given to scientists who have made a significant societal impact through the application of science and technology.

His work, “Field-ready tools for fingerprinting of herbal materials for the medicinal plant industry,” was co-authored by Sarah May Sibug-Torres and Dr. Isagani D. Padolina. Their research was recognized for the advantages it provides to community-based suppliers and farmers of medicinal plants, benefits that are much-needed owing to the growing demand for plant-based medicine.

“This research is all about helping the medicinal plant industry. Pascual Pharma Corp. needed some assistance for farmers in ensuring product quality,” said Dr. Enriquez. The study focused on producing a tool that enables medicinal plant farmers to check if their yield passes the specifications established for plants to be utilized in making medicines. Through this cost-effective and rapid test, farmers are given a chance to pre-screen their produce, and improve on them by applying fertilizers if needed. This also means reducing transportation costs for supplies that could potentially be deemed substandard and would have to be returned to the farmers.

Dr. Enriquez at a conference in Washington, DC, USA


The research was recognized for the advantages it provides to community-based suppliers and farmers of medicinal plants, benefits that are much-needed owing to the growing demand for plant-based medicine.

Enriquez stated that plant-based medicines recognized by the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines have very high standards and quality requirements.  Thus, there is a high rejection rate of produce in the industry. Enriquez explained, “So what happens when [the companies] buy from their suppliers, but the produce are rejected? That is [where] the problem [starts] because from the company’s point of view, they lose their supply because it is not within acceptable standards. For the farmers’ point of view, they lose their business because they send this batch only to be rejected in the end.”

Through Enriquez’s study, a field kit uses a multi-stationary phase thin-layer chromatography (MSP-TLC) method for the initial on-site identification and assessment of herbal materials. The farmers would need to drop an extract of a sample leaf to a MSP-TLC plate. The image that will form on the plate will be subjected to an image analysis and chemometric pattern recognition facilitated by a phone application. The application then determines if the sample is “within-specifications” or “off-specifications.”

In this particular study, the tool used lagundi (Vitex negundo) and sambong (Blumea balsamifera) as samples. Recently, they were contacted by Moringaling Philippines Foundation Inc. to look at possible application of the field kit to test malunggay (Moringa oleifera).

Dr. Enriquez reiterates that this study would not be possible without the grant from USAID and the partnership with Pascual Pharma Corp., highlighting the importance of partnership between the academe and industries. At present, Enriquez and his team are applying for a patent to ensure that the field kit will remain accessible to farmers, the target beneficiaries of the study. The patent will also allow them to have control over use of the technology and how to commercialize it.

Aside from the NAST recognition, the study of Enriquez, Torres, and Padolina also made it to the cover of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Analytical Methods twice. Dr. Enriquez emphasizes that behind the accolades, there were definitely hurdles faced along the way. Communicating the scientific concepts, simplifying the technology, and catering to the needs of the beneficiaries are some of the challenges that Enriquez and his team had to overcome.

Enriquez’s passion and love for science as well as for the country are his strongest motivators in pursuing his research work. As a balik-scientist, he wanted to face the challenge of making a contribution to his country even with limited resources available.

Enriquez is a professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering at the Loyola Schools of Ateneo de Manila University. He obtained his PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under Professor Edward T. Samulski, and was postdoctoral research associate at the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign prior to joining Ateneo in 1995.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Erwin Enriquez