Over the past ten years, the heritage discourse in the Gulf countries has underlined the significance of date fruit in the tradition of the Arab culture as an authentic local resource and as a source for sustaining human life. According to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad broke his fasting by eating dates; a ritual which is still practiced by the majority of Muslims today. AGYA members Younis Baqi (Chemistry) and Mohamed Abou El-Enein (Health Sciences) are analysing the medical potential of dates for fighting cancer in their Tandem Project ‘Investigating the Bioactive Properties of Natural Products of GCC Origin’
WHY DO SCIENTISTS FROM CHEMISTRY AND HEALTH SCIENCES WORK TOGETHER ON DATES?
As head of clinical development at the BerlinBrandenburg Center for Regenerative Therapies at Charité Berlin, I am responsible for transforming research findings into clinical applications. My primary interest within the field of regenerative medicine focuses on the clinical translation of cell and gene therapies. I am very interested in how natural bio-products , such as dates, can stimulate cell growth. Younis is in the process of analysing date extract to determine its medical application in the treatment of diseases such as cancer. This is how dates bring us together.
WHAT ARE THE SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF DATES WITH REGARD TO THEIR MEDICAL APPLICATION?
The fruit of the date palm possesses high nutritional and therapeutic value, with a significant amount of antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiproliferative properties. Antioxidants are also known as ‘free radical scavengers’; they are chemical compounds that react with and neutralize free radicals, thus preventing them from causing damage and diseases such as cancer. To investigate the health-promoting properties of dates, I am currently focusing on the species which is native to Oman: the Omani Elite Variety ‘Khalas’. Recently, the Chemistry Department at Sultan Qaboos University, where I work as an assistant professor, has been equipped with a well-advanced natural products isolation and extraction laboratory with which my team and I were able to prepare the natural extracts. The analysis of these extracts is currently being conducted at German universities, since I have always worked in close and productive collaboration with German partners.
DOES THE PERCEPTION OF NATURAL PRODUCTS DIFFER BETWEEN THE ARAB AND GERMAN MEDICAL SYSTEMS?
The use of natural products is considered as part of traditional medicine, also known as ‘folk medicine’. In my experience, conventional medicine, which is mostly palliative, is more commonly used in the German society, rather than traditional medical approaches. Although, in the case of everyday diseases such as the common cold, natural remedies and healing herbs are also widely utilised. In Arab countries, both of these concepts of medicine are employed alongside each other; however, with different preferences: traditional medicine is considered a collection of the assembled knowledge of practices that are thousands of years old, some even based on religious beliefs, and it is held in high esteem.
From the scientific point of view, natural product compounds have been a successful medicinal source for the pharmaceutical industry. Since natural products are naturally biosynthesized, they are found to interact with very crucial biopolymer molecules in the living cells, such as proteins, DNA, and RNA. Drugs target the same molecules. It has been estimated that 62% of all modern drugs originate from natural products, of which 14% either mimic natural products or contain the natural product pharmacophore. The remaining 38% of current drugs are either purely synthesised (27%), or synthesised to mimic a natural product (11%). The results on cancer research show that dates, with their highly favourable compounds, have great potential for implementation in the field of regenerative medicine. I personally believe that natural products, with their ability to bind cell molecules, will have positive effects on enhancing cell recovery. Let’s investigate this potential together and expand our current Tandem Project within AGYA to implement our findings in the area of regenerative medicine.