Scientists at KAUST discover plant extracts which can be used effectively against cancer

October 2nd, 2017 | by MuslimScience
Scientists at KAUST discover plant extracts which can be used effectively against cancer

Thuwail, Saudia Arabia:

A group of researchers at King Abdullah University of Sciences and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have discovered three herbal plants which can be used to combat cancer. These plants carrying cytotoxic (harmful/destructive to living cells) potential, have traditionally been used against a host of diseases.

In an effort to devise inexpensive treatment options against cancer, a group of scientists led by Dr. Timothy Ravasi and Dr. Christian Voolstra set out to study a local plant derived agent that has the property to hamper cell growth. Timothy Ravasi – a professor of Bioscience at KAUST – has a Ph.D from the University of Milan in Italy. Ravasi who specializes in systems biology is also working with Christian Voolstra on discovering new bioactive compounds from Red Sea marine animals.

PhD student from KAUST studying anticancer potential of native plant species

The researchers discovered that a chemical compound found in plant extracts has the ability to inhibit the activity of (topoisomerase) enzymes that play a vital role in cell division. Enzymes are biological agents that accelerate chemical reactions. In order for a cell to divide and produce copies of itself the cell undergoes a process called DNA replication. The topoisomerase enzymes participate in a process that facilities the replication cycle (they correct topological problems caused by the double stranded DNA structure). Inhibitors of this enzyme are the most widely used anticancer drugs.

The researchers narrowed down their search to three plants after investigating around 52 plants for their biological properties. They used plant extracts to demonstrate that the said plants contain substances capable of acting as topoisomerase inhibitors thereby stalling uncontrolled cell growth.

This discovery builds upon a series of research in a branch of science called Natural Products Chemistry that involves the use of naturally occurring chemical compounds having therapeutic capabilities for producing drugs in the pharmaceutical industry.

This initial research although a step in the right direction is fraught with challenges. The development of new drugs derived from naturally occurring compounds is a complex and expensive process. In the Muslim World, there is an old and established practice of traditional medicine but it has been challenge to bring this traditional knowledge to the 21st Century.

There are several research centers in Natural Products Chemistry the most notable – HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry which has the additional title of being the International Center of Chemical and Biological Sciences – has been active in the Natural Products Chemistry for many decades is seeking to develop the capacity to convert this science into pharmaceutical drugs after appropriate animal and himan testing.

While this discovery is a step in the right direction, the Muslim world has a long way to go to fully capitalize on these discoveries and need to make more focused efforts – and expend more resources – to indigenize the drug development cycle.

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