In the United Arab Emirates, cancer accounts for 15% of all death. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women and ranks second as a cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. Plants have been shown to be an excellent source of new drugs, including anticancer agents. Identification and development of new chemotherapeutic agents from plants have gained significant recognition in the field of cancer therapy and become a major area of experimental cancer research.
Dr Rabah Iratni, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), established a laboratory three years back, to explore if a potent new anti-cancer drug could be found in our home garden, perhaps in the leaves, the blooms, or even the roots of a plant.
Dr Rabah's research team began studying various types of plants extracts and pure naturally occurring phytochemicals in the search for new compounds that could provide more effective, less toxic ways to fight different forms of cancer with a focus on breast and lung cancer. So far, the laboratory has evaluated numerous phytochemicals and extracts and many of them revealed to be highly effective against these cancer.
Dr Rabah's stated, "Recently, we have found that the leaf extract from the marjoram herb (Origanum Majorana), a worldwide spread plant with a long history of both culinary and traditional medicine, can inhibit the growth of cultured invasive breast cancer cells." These research findings were the result of a research project carried out by a national PhD student, Yusra al-Dhaheri, and have recently been published in the international scientific journal PloS ONE entitled 'Mitotic Arrest and Apoptosis in Breast Cancer Cells Induced by Origanum Majorana Extract: Up-regulation of TNF-α and Down-regulation of Survivin and Mutant', and has also been reported in Nature Middle-East entitled 'A Herbal Treatment for Breast Cancer'.
"We showed that Origanum extract (OME) elicited different effects on the invasive breast cancer cells. Lower concentrations of the extract blocked the breast cancer cells at the mitosis stage of cell division. On the other hand, higher concentrations triggered a massive cell death and caused severe depletion of the mutant 'tumor suppressor' protein in these cells. It is noteworthy to mention that the mutant has been reported to play a key role in cancer cells resistance to certain anti-cancer drugs and thus is considered as a potential cancer-specific target for pharmacologic interventions. Hence, our findings provide strong evidence that Origanum Majorana may be a promising chemo preventive and therapeutic candidate against cancer especially for highly invasive triple negative mutant breast cancer; thus validating its complementary and alternative medicinal use," added Dr Iratni.
Dr Ali Rashid al-Noaimi, UAEU Vice Chancellor, commended the team of researchers and said, "As a leading research-intensive University of International stature, our world-class faculty and exceptional students continue to demonstrate the abilities and strengths of this University in addressing the significant challenges faced world-wide and continue to contribute significantly in many areas in particular medical advancements. The very fact that this research has been published in such a highly regarded publications is testament to its importance, and testament to the brilliant work being done here at UAEU. We are very proud of their achievement."
As a continuity of this OME related research, more findings are currently under consideration for publication in recognized international scientific journal.
The effect of Salinomycin, an antibiotic isolated from the bacteria Streptomyces albus, on breast cancer was another interesting story coming from Dr Iratni's laboratory also published recently in another high quality international journal Biochemica Biophysical Acta. "Our team was the first to gain an insight into the underlying mechanism of these compound anti-cancer properties and senescence induction in invasive breast cancer cells. We found that Salinomycin was able to induce growth inhibition, permanent cell cycle arrest, apoptosis and senescence of breast cancer cells. Interestingly, we also showed that Salinomycin was able to enhance the anti-proliferative activity of conventional chemotherapy drugs," added Dr Iratni.
Dr Iratni's research team composed of faculty members, PhD and master students have several other ongoing anti-cancer research projects being carried out by the Department of Biology in collaboration with Dr Samir Attoub from the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, UAEU. Our main goal is to purify the anti-cancer bioactive compound(s) in these extracts. "Such quantitative and qualitative outcomes could not have been achieved without the crucial financial support from UAEU and Emirates Foundation," said Dr Iratni.