Dr Ahmed bin Sulaiman al Harrasi, dean of Scientific Research and chair professor of Oman’s Medicinal Plants and Marine Natural Products Chair, University of Nizwa (UoN), said the conference will be organised jointly with the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU). Harrasi also explained the research developments in AKBA, a compound found in frankincense, known for its promising in-vitro and in-vivo anti-cancer activities.
Speaking to Muscat Daily Dr Harrasi said, “There is a growing international interest in frankincense research in general and in AKBA research in particular. Scientists and the pharmaceutical industry recognise its potential, but it is important to note that drugs can take decades to develop.
“First, the natural product is isolated and characterised, its content is enhanced, in-vitro and in-vivo tests are done, and finally, four phases of clinical trials have to be completed before seeking an approval from FDA [Food and Drug Administration].”
Speaking about the ongoing research Dr Harrasi said, “Research needs time and funding. Through the support of UoN and The Research Council (TRC), we have continued our research in spite of dwindling funds. We have established our own in-vitro cell culture laboratory and animal facilities at UoN for in-vivo activities. We managed to publish a good number of papers in highly reputable international journals and are collaborating with hospitals and universities in the UK, Germany, the US and Korea as well as with colleagues in SQU and Qatar University.” TRC is funding the second stage of the project.
“We have modified (chemical modification) the structure of the AKBA and other boswellic acids isolated from frankincense. We have more than 70 new derivatives. “Some of these derivatives are being screened for their anti-cancer activities with our collaborators in Germany,” Dr Harrasi said, adding “One Omani PhD student registered at SQU and sponsored by TRC is involved in this project as a joint supervision between our lab and the college of medicine.”
Four exchange PhD students are working on the structure–activity relationship (SAR) which is the relationship between the chemical structure of a molecule and its biological activity, he said. “This enables the determination of the chemical groups responsible for evoking a target biological effect in the organism. Due to lack of legislations, we are not able to do clinical trials in Oman, but a medical university in Germany has shown interest. We are yet to sign an agreement with them to carry out these trials.”
Omani researchers are also working with South Korean researchers. “We’re also working on the genome of the frankincense tree, in collaboration with South Korean researchers. “It’s a very ambitious and challenging project when it comes to plants like frankincense. It has never been attempted. It was hard to convince international groups to work with us on the whole genome due to expected costs, but with the promising preliminary data this is now feasible. Sequencing is very expensive, yet we took the challenge. We are ambitious and determined.”
The government and private sector stakeholders behind the conference aim to bring prominent scientists from different disciplines such as chemistry, medicine, biology, as well as historians to present their latest findings.