Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Dao: "In science, there is no way for kings"
That is the thinking of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Dao - author of liver detoxification product called Naturenz, which also helps treat people poisoned with dioxin.
The determination of working in the field of science and the willing to accept challenges gave her necessary strength to pursue this work for 20 years.
Start with pain
The joy of signing a memorandum of understanding on cooperation and technology transfer for the production of liver detoxification product called Naturenz with Hau Giang Pharmaceutical Joint Stock Company since the end of 2016 seems to still be intact. The 72-year-old scientist quickly opened her iPad to show off the greetings from students and colleagues. She had a happy face but delivered slightly sad voice: “20 years of pursuing this product, there were times when I wanted to give up, however thinking about the reason why I started, thinking about the efforts have made by myself and my partners, I decided to continue again”.
The reason she started talking about the process was the obsession with dioxin-infected soldiers returning from the war with sores, or having given birth to malformed children. She felt their pain as deeply as her own. In October 1980, when the National Committee for Investigation of post-war Consequences of Toxic Chemicals was established, Mrs. Dao who had just completed her PhD training program in biotechnology in Germany eagerly participated in the study. Her goal was to make medicine to help others overcome and excrete dioxin in the human body.
“There are many researches and I chose strong natural antioxidants such as vitamin C or active ingredients extracted from garlic and sweet gourd. Through the microscope, I found that the cell nucleus tested in vegetable extracts did not break apart as usual. The initial positive results encouraged me to continue pursuing this research by reaching out to many authorities, applying for projects from the institute to the state level. During that difficult period, the drug was only produced by extracting active ingredients, mixing with fillers (starch) and then pressing the pellets manually and distributing them to veterans", Dr. Dao said and explained: "At the time of delivery, during the time of seasonal change, dioxin-infected veterans often experience scaled skin, so it is necessary to take medication to prevent this syndrome. Many of the pills were already watery, however the veterans still persisted in getting them for treatment. That urgent need is the motivation for me to find ways to develop this liver detox formula”, she said.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Dao at the Naturenz product introduction ceremony. Photo: Kim Ngan.
Since the first formula was released in 1998, she has made multiple improvements to obtain the current Naturenz product. The initial plan to develop drugs for dioxin-infected veterans has now expanded to patients with hepatotoxicity and impaired liver function.
One of those who have used Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Dao's products for the past 20 years - veteran Nguyen Van Khoa living in Yen Vien, Gia Lam, Hanoi affirmed that he survived thanks to this product: “In 2000, I was almost dead when dioxin took effect. After that, thanks to persistently using Naturenz for 6 months, I was healthy amd my hair grew again". Mr. Khoa said that he still regularly bought this product and sent it to his children living in Australia to reduce the effects of dioxin. His brother-in-law had liver toxicity due to drinking a lot of alcohol, thanks to taking Naturenz, he then got better and better; the abdominal distention also no longer existed.
Consider chanllenge as a gift
When I asked about the most important thing for a scientist, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Dao asserted: “It is to determine the path you take, the goal you will try to obtain. Regarding the path to the finish line, challenge is considered as a gift, because there is no separate path for kings in the field of science".
With such determination, Dr. Dao did not hesitate to face the challenges and difficult situations and she determined to resolve them decisively.
Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Dao recalls: “In 1981, when I received the decision of being a PhD candidate at the Academy of Sciences of the German Democratic Republic, my daughter was only 6 months. My husband took care of the child so that I could go to school. I had to go through a lot of exams to be eligible for studying abroad. I understood everyone's expectations, and was worried about that. I also missed my child at home, therefore, I put all my energy into studying hard for 3 years and a half to quickly return to my country. The professor was impressed with my findings on the topic and advised me to continue after my PhD completion. However, at that time I was almost exhausted and also thought that I had to balance work and family, so I decided to return home”.
Returning to Vietnam, with the same way of facing challenges, she went to the end in her research on antidotes as she identified this as an important goal. As one of the first molecular biology researchers in Vietnam, in addition to the above work, Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Dao also studied birth defects caused by gene damage in dioxin-infected patients, and all kinds of enzymes. In 2005, she received Vietnam Women's Award conferred by the Vietnam Women's Union for her research on enzym that dissolves blood clots.
Talking about the country's biotechnology industry, this enthusiastic 72-year-old scientist shared: "The world is developing rapidly, if we don't rush, we will be left behind. If scientists have good researches, don't just rely on businesses to bring products to market, let’s invest in your business. Because if the business is good, the profit will contribute to the return for the investment of the State. This means that it will enable you to obtain two things that you want to achieve, rather than just one”.