Meet Merell Billacura, Newton Fund grant awardee.

Research topic: Impact of Diet on Gene Dysfunction in Type 2 Diabetes

Host institution / UK university: Nottingham Trent University

Home institution: Mindanao State University

Degree programme: PhD Biomedical Sciences

Describe your PhD research in simple terms.

Preliminary data in the Turner group has shown that over 3,000 pancreatic genes have a 2-fold or greater change in gene activity as a consequence of exposure to a high sugar and fat environment that is representative of that experienced by patients with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. The challenge now is to understand which of these genes drives the decreased insulin secretion and increased pancreatic cell death that results from chronic exposure to a high sugar, fat diet. By so doing, we aim to develop a number of novel strategies that work through mechanisms independent of current options for diabetes treatment. If successful, this would then ultimately lead to the development of new therapeutic agents to help fight diabetes. 

What is the relevance of your study to the economic development, welfare and poverty issues in the Philippines?

This project supports the nation’s commitment to foster healthier and more productive lives among the Filipino population. As diabetes is predicted to rise from 2.77 million affected individuals in the Philippines in 2000 to 7.8 million in 2030 ( this represents a significant and major threat to both the health and economy of the Philippines. Importantly diabetes is known to exert a disproportionate negative effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in society.


The work proposed in this project is likely to lead to the development of novel pharmaceuticals. The technology pipeline developed will subsequently be made available for adoption by the DOH, DOST and PCHRD. It is envisaged that this would then contribute to strengthen the economy through investment and employment in local science and pharmaceutical industries. Additional contributions would come through taxes, potentially significant earnings from external trade, and indirect effects to the local economy.

How do you envision your UK education can contribute to your future career as a researcher?

At the end of my doctoral studies, I intent to have dealings through sustainable active collaboration with Turner’s Research Group to discuss significant and high impact researches about diabetes. Furthermore, my home institution, Mindanao State University, may establish an agreement with Nottingham Trent University to have a 6-12 month exchange student program in our undergraduate and graduate level to do research and gain knowledge on the state-of-the-art facilities and methodologies. Aside from this, our University could potentially invite Professors from NTU to do lectures, seminar-workshops and trainings to practically transpose their knowledge and technology for us to learn, enhance and cultivate the culture of doing researches on metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

How has the commitment of the UK in science and technology influence your decision in choosing the Newton Fund?

United Kingdom has been a major contributor in research, technology and innovation worldwide. This involvement benefited mankind into a greater extent in providing help in alleviating problems in food security, health, energy, and environmental resilience. 

UK partnership with the Department of Science and Technology through Newton Agham Programme ensures noble collaboration and linkages between Philippines and UK researchers. And this would greatly help strengthen research and promote the economic development of the Philippines.