Fighting diseases, one nano-step at a time
featuring Dr. West Paraiso
As a child, West cycled through many different dreams, none of which involved making medicine. Despite being influenced by his parents’ previous jobs in making personal care and food products, he grew up developing interests in completely opposite fields ─ mythology and literature. It was not until his senior year in high school that West seriously considered a career in science. Motivated by his science teachers, he actively pursued paths that were heavy in physics and chemistry until he landed a slot in the undergraduate industrial pharmacy program at the University of the Philippines.
While studying pharmacy, he realized that science can be used to make innovations in healthcare, through developing drugs that can cure or mitigate diseases. This was also the period where he solidified his interest in chemistry. After graduating in 2009, he worked as an instructor in the same college where he studied, proctoring laboratory classes in pharmaceutical sciences. At the same time, he began reading for his masters in chemistry at another university along Taft, De La Salle University.
West started exploring possible future directions in research at this stage. He worked on the simple synthesis of phthalimide derivatives as possible antimycobacterials as his master’s thesis, which he submitted in 2012. He also enjoyed a brief research stint at the Marine Science Institute at UP, where he explored the properties of seaweed polysaccharides. This served as his first exposure to polymers and their applications in drug delivery, which eventually became important later on in his career.
In 2014, he obtained a Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) Scholarship to study in Japan. He went to Hokkaido University to work with Professor Hideyoshi Harashima on lipid nanoparticles as a platform for drug delivery. He was primarily interested in working on a field that is barely explored in the Philippines, while still bringing with him his original interest in developing new technologies for treating diseases. It was here in Japan where he shifted towards cancer research. As such, the skills he obtained began to lean towards cancer biology rather than his previous orientation towards organic chemistry. For his doctorate, he worked on lipid-coated gold nanoparticles which can be used for photothermal therapy in breast cancer.
It was also in Hokkaido University where he started to discover his interest in learning different languages and cultures around the world. He attended language courses in Japanese and German. Growing awareness around the globe to the issue of climate change also pushed him to take up this advocacy. He won a travel grant to represent young leaders in Japan at the G200 Youth Summit in 2016 where he led a group of students around the world in writing a communiqué with a heavy focus on suggesting science-based solutions mitigate climate change. He also sat in a university-sponsored web-based forum where he discussed similar issues with other graduate students.
In 2018, he left Hokkaido for the Kanto area to pursue a career in nanomedicine. After a short tenure at a medical device start-up, he joined the Innovation Center of Nanomedicine (iCONM) in Kawasaki as a research scientist. iCONM is the only comprehensive research institute dedicated to nanomedicine in Japan. Headed by Prof. Kazunori Kataoka, the center links academia and industry to produce nanomaterials for therapeutics and diagnostics, termed “in-body hospitals” with applications for a wide range of oncologic and neurologic diseases, among others.
At the moment, he is formulating polymeric micelle-based delivery systems for obesity and brain cancer, two ailments that lack effective treatment. This work allows him to integrate his previous skills in organic synthesis, nanoparticle characterization, and disease biology. These efforts are done in connection with the project he is involved with, a Japan-Spain collaboration co-headed by Dr. Sabina Quader (iCONM) and Dr. Rosalía Rodríguez Rodríguez (International University of Catalonia). The group has published and presented some of their early works on the delivery of an inhibitor to carnitine palmitoyltransferase 1 (CPT1), a key enzyme in lipid metabolism, into neurons and glioma cells.
Armed with new confidence in carrying out scientific research independently, he aims to continue the mission he took up ever since he entered pharmacy school, which is to contribute to developing new and effective treatment modalities for diseases that are currently untreatable.