Tech, plant-based products shown at NIH conference

| Written by Fred Dabu

A vending machine for non-prescription drugs and other over-the-counter products; a device that helps lifeguards detect drowning victims; and a tracking system for Alzheimer’s patients.

These were among the innovative products showcased at the 21st anniversary conference of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-University of the Philippines Manila (UP Manila) on February 28 at the Bayanihan Center, UNILAB Inc. complex, Pasig City.

With the theme, “Lab to Life: Translating Health Research for Filipinos,” the day-long conference included presentations and a poster exhibit of abstracts on these “future products” as laboratory-tested solutions that can be made commercially viable and available for development with prospective industrial partners.

Among the other technologies and plant-based products featured by the NIH were: virtual reality applications for phobia therapies; electronic medical record systems; and medicines derived from Tsaang gubat, Ulasimang bato, Yerba buena, and Akapulko herbs.

OTC Express

Research by members of the Adamson University’s Electronics Engineering Department features the OTC Express, a “microprocessor and microcontroller-based automated vending machine that monitors sales, transaction records, and product inventory remotely through a database.” According to the proponents of this innovation, the vending machine aims to dispense non-prescription medicines and toiletries, or over the counter (OTC) products, that are commonly purchased from drugstores. This makes commerce more convenient for both customers and operators. Customers will be able to save time since the machine allows flexible payments in coins, bills, and points earned through purchases using magnetic stripe cards; and they do not have to queue up at the cashier. On the other hand, operators can easily monitor products with the machine’s proximity sensors; and inventories are reported to them in real time, making restocking easier and eliminating periodic manual inspections.

Drowning Detection System

Another technology being offered by the Adamson EE department is a system for detecting body movements indicative of drowning. Proponents of this study cited drowning as one of the top causes of accidental deaths worldwide. Thus, to help lifeguards prevent drowning, they conceptualized the development of a wearable device and alarm system. According to the researchers, “there are specific near-drowning body movement patterns that could be detected and assessed.” The project shows the feasibility of developing a wearable device that detetcs an instinctive drowning response in the user using motion detection, and a receiving device that makes the system “capable of sensing, communicating, comparing and initiating an alarm”.

Tracking System for Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease

Also from the Adamson University, a research project proposes “the development of a real-time tracking system for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.” Proponents of this study designed a wearable tracking device for patients in nursing homes. The tracking device is linked to a personal computer-based software application that notifies administrators or caregivers if a patient has wandered out of the facility. Using wireless GSM technology, the system “will be able to locate the exact position of the patient,” and can even interconnect the patients’ individual devices through mesh network data transfers among their wearable devices. The researchers cited data from the National Statistics Office  indicating that, as of 2007, there were 3.6 million persons aged 65 and above, majority (56.8%) of them women, with Alzheimer’s disease. They are the main beneficiaries of this product.


Sponsors’ booths and selected participants’ posters of research abstracts were set up at the lobby of the NIH conference venue. Photo by Jun Madrid, UP MPRO.


The following innovations are currently handled by the UP Manila-Technology Transfer and Business Development Office (UPM-TTBDO):

YANIG: A Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for Earthquake-related PTSD

The UPM-TTBDO describes YANIG as “a virtual reality application designed as an alternative way of exposing patients with earthquake-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to their stressors.” This application for Android mobile devices can simulate earthquakes with intensity levels ranging from 4 to 10 and allows the therapist to customize the parameters of the virtual environment and auditory cues to settings that are appropriate to the patient’s conditions.

VRETA: Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for Agoraphobia 

VRETA is an application designed to supplement treatment for patients with Agoraphobia, the irrational fear of being in open or public spaces.  According to the proponents, the program provides “exposure therapy” using virtual environments, reduces the time and cost of finding a suitable public place, and can generate a progress report after each simulation. It also protects the person’s privacy. The website of the Mayo Clinic describes Agoraphobia as a type of anxiety disorder in which the patient fears and avoids places or situations that might cause him or her to panic and make the patient feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. The patient fears an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line, or being in a crowd. It is also “one of the most disabling phobias and one of the most challenging to treat”.

AVRET: Acrophobia Virtual Reality Exposure Treatment

AVRET is a program designed to help therapists treat patients with fear of heights. Like the YANIG and VRETA applications, AVRET provides a virtual environment that the therapist can customize for the patients, allow more privacy and less costs, minimize the risks posed by the outdoors, and generate progress reports after each simulation.

RxBox and CHITS

“RxBox is a multi-component program designed to provide better access to life-saving health services in isolated and disadvantaged communities nationwide.” It includes the continuous development of “a biomedical device, the Community Health Information Tracking System (CHITS—a pioneering electronic medical record system) and telemedicine, and their integration and eHealth training of rural health professionals”.  Around 160 government primary care facilities use RxBox. CHITS is a secure and interoperable EMR capable of transmitting electronic reports to the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). Around 180 public health centers are using CHITS.

File photos from the NIH-UP Manila showing the 2014 version of the RxBox.


Tsaang gubat for stomach problems

Tsaang gubat leaves. Photo from the Facebook page of the Department of Health.


Tsaang gubat leaves are prepared and drunk as tea to relieve patients’ stomach problems and loose bowel movement. The National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants- Institute of Herbal Medicine (NIRPROMP – IHM) developed the Tsaang gubat tablet as a safe and effective medicine for relieving abdominal pain and for treating mild to severe gastrointestinal or biliary colics within 30 minutes to 1.5 hours.  Tsaang gubat tablet is the only clinically proven herbal medicine in the Philippines to address gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and gallstones.


Ulasimang bato for treating hyperuricemia, gout

Ulasimang bato also known as pansit-pansitan leaves. Photo from the Facebook page of the Department of Health.


Traditionally, Ulasimang bato or pansit-pansitan leaves have been used as a decoction to treat gout, arthritis and urinary tract infections. Clinical trials conducted by the NIRPROMP show that Ulasimang bato relieves the patients’ joint pains and decreases serum uric acid levels within 2 to 7 weeks of continuous oral intake. This product is available in 500 mg tablet form.


Yerba buena for pain

Yerba buena also known as mint leaves. Photo from the Facebook page of the Department of Health.


Yerba buena, an aromatic herb also known as mint, spearmint or marshmint, has been drunk as a tea for headaches, toothaches and arthritis.” NIRPROMP’s clinical studies prove the Yerba buena tablet formulation to be safe and effective in relieving moderate to severe pain, including post-operative pain.


Akapulko for treating fungal skin infections

Akapulko leaves. Photo from the Facebook page of the Department of Health.


Lastly, among the products featured in time for the NIH’s 21st anniversary, is the Akapulko lotion. NIRPROMP’s clinical tests prove this lotion to be safe and effective in treating Pityriasis (Tinea) versicolor or fungal skin infections.

Pharmaceutical companies are invited to produce, manufacture and distribute these products in the Philippine market.

The UPM-TTBDO may be reached via email: