“Always be guided by the light of knowledge and wisdom to shape your future, the future of your country and the future of the world”, Ahmed Zewail, the Egyptian Nobel Laureate in Chemistry once said. His studies on the transition states of chemical reactions using femtosecond spectroscopy, were the reason for a giant leap in the field of medical research and drug design. SEKEM is guided by such light of knowledge, heading to achieve development for the communities.
In 1999, SEKEM Development Foundation (SDF) established the Heliopolis Academy for Applied & Science, as a holistic research institution. The academy once focused on researches on the development of new herbal medical preparations and the training of practice-minded scientists. Products developed by it are today sold nationwide to combat numerous ailments in natural ways. In 2012 the research departments were integrated into the Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development (HU) and extended in many fields, such as education, business and even arts. “Heliopolis University is an enormous research institute. Students learn how to search for the information before studying it in detail”, says Dr. Alaa Barakat, Associate Professor and the Head of the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Department.
The Biochemistry and Biotechnology Department was one of the first research entities in SEKEM and became very important for the SEKEM institutions that are linked to medicine and health. In a modern phytochemical laboratory most products for the companies ATOS Pharma and ISIS Organic are developed, a biotechnology laboratory is in use for agricultural applications and a biomedical research unit is committed to sustainable medical products.
“Collaboration with governments is an effective way towards community development”, Prof. Alaa Barakat
The Biomedical Research Department is working under the supervision of Dr. Ahmed Ismail, who is responsible for all research entities and closely cooperating with Dr. Kadria Abdel Motaal, Head of Academic Research at the HU. “We decide to initiate research either according to the market demand or if we want to test a drug’s efficiency”, Dr. Ismail reveals. As a matter of fact, an approved published research is needed to consider the drug’s efficiency, which ensures in the same time an increment of the drug’s credibility and reliability. Most of the researches in the Biomedical Department are not only handling the effect of drugs and its mechanism of action on the organ-level, but also on the molecular and genetic level, which is part of the molecular biology field. When applying such studies, a drug can be modified to be more efficient with a lower dose and less side effects. HU organizes workshops in collaboration with different institutes to share the results of researches. In the same time, these events shall open new gateways for students and researchers from all over the world to contribute to the research process.
SEKEM understands research as part of the value chain, which has to be implemented in other fields to become actively productive and sustainable. Hence, the Biomedical Research Department is strongly interacting with SEKEMs company ATOS Pharma. Next to the medical products, diagnostic items have been recently developed, for instance a device for testing the infection of Helicobacter pylori bacterium, a pregnancy test or a drug screening test. Furthermore a test device for diagnosis of Hepatitis C virus, a widely spread infection in Egypt, is planned. All these devices have been imported until now, which increases their prices. ATOS Pharma will be the first national company producing and marketing diagnostic tests, which will then also be used in governmental campaigns. “Participating in governmental healthcare programs is an important step”, says Dr. Alaa Barakat. “Collaboration with the government in regards to medical projects is an effective way to achieve community development”, the manager of the HU-Biochemistry and Biotechnology Department explains.
“We might benefit from a giant leap through our new research project.” Prof. Ahmed Ismail
And there is another very promising project about to rise, which might be of worldwide interest. “Through our new research in cooperation with German partners, a giant leap is on its way”, reveals Dr. Ahmed Ismail. This very comprehensive research is about a medicine, which is able to regain the sensitivity of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Thereby a lot of diseases can be treated again without having too much harmful side-effects. The Biomedical Research Unit is now analyzing the mechanisms of the drug, which affects the genetic expression of the resistant bacteria. Many promising preclinical and clinical trials have been done and the research team is confident that they can publish the results shortly. “Everyone in our department participates in this project, even the students shared some results under the supervision of their instructors”, says Dr. Ahmed. “I hope we can pass through the rest of challenges and reveal all the details of the researches soon. The increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a huge medical challenge. By finding a way to stem this, we would achieve a very important and giant progress.”
SEKEMs research activities will continue its holistic approach and focus on the combination of theoretical knowledge and practical implementation. Saying it with the words of Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, pharmacologist himself: “Education and science are going hand in hand. Together they are promoting interest in the world and creating awareness about the value of self-knowledge and personal advancement. At the same time, they are strengthening the trust of a society in its own abilities, which helps to understand challenges and develop solutions.”