, MARCH 15, 2007 (STAR) By Doreen G. Yu - A Filipino molecular biologist has been named by the Harvard Foundation as 2007 Scientist of the Year.

Dr. Baldomero M. Olivera, son and namesake of a former STAR columnist, will receive the distinction at an honorary luncheon on Friday at Harvardís Pforzheimer House, which opens the annual Albert Einstein Science Conference sponsored by the Harvard Foundation. The foundation is observing its 25th anniversary this year.

Olivera, who was nominated by the Harvard Foundationís Student/Faculty Advisory Committee, is being honored for his contributions in the field of biology, in particular for his groundbreaking research on neurotoxins produced by venomous cone snails found in Philippine waters. The toxins that he and his team identified are now widely used in neuroscience research.

He is a leading figure in the emerging field of neuropharmacology. Although based in the US, Olivera maintains a laboratory in the Philippines that continues research work on neurotoxins that target specific ion channels in the central nervous system. His work has led to the development of a drug, now in clinical trails, that appears to be more effective against chronic pain than morphine. Knowledge provided by his basic research studies may also shed light on conditions, such as schizophrenia and epilepsy, which involve the function of receptors and ion channels in the nervous system.

"Dr. Olivera is widely respected as a biological scientist for his excellent work in neurotoxicology and his dedication to students in the field," said Dr. S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation and associate professor of neurology and neurophysiology.

"In his research, teaching, and social commitments, he is a distinguished role model whom we honor for his fine example," Counter added. Olivera is Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Utah. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, summa cum laude, from the University of the Philippines and a doctorate in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology. He did postdoctoral work at Stanford University with Dr. I Robert Lehman.

Last year, he was appointed a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. Olivera has published over 250 scientific papers on the biological sciences.

Each year, the Harvard Foundation and members of the science community present a special award to an internationally acclaimed scientist for his or her contributions and achievements in the biological and physical sciences, and particularly their efforts to advance minorities and women in the sciences.

Olivera will receive the award from the dean of Harvard College and the president of Harvard University.

Olivera will speak about his life as a scientist and deliver remarks to encourage college students to pursue careers in the sciences.

On Saturday, Olivera will join some 30 Harvard undergraduate students and a hundred boys and girls from Boston and Cambridge public schools for the foundationís annual Partners in Science program, which features lectures and demonstrations by Harvard science faculty at the Science Center for inner city junior high school students, and interactive science experiments with Harvard College students.

Last yearís Harvard Foundation Scientist of the Year awardee was Dr. P. Uri Treisman, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas in Austin, who was recognized for his efforts to improve math and science education, particularly for minorities.

Past Harvard Foundations honorees include Nobel Laureate in chemistry Dr. Mario Molina, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, astronauts Dr. Ellen Ochoa and Dr. Mae Jamison, mathematician Dr. Jonathan David Farley, and distinguished mathematics teacher Jaime Escalante of the Stand and Deliver project.

The annual Harvard Foundation Albert Einstein Science Conference: Advancing Minorities and Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics aims to bring together a diverse group of professors and students with interest in the basic, applied, natural and biological sciences. It is named after the distinguished scientist who visited historically black colleges to demonstrate his commitment to equal education and civil rights, and who spoke out against racism and anti-Semitism in American and around the world.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved