Egyptian scientists to make diabetes drug out of bitter fruit

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The National Research Centre (NRC) in Cairo, Egypt, has signed a deal with a local pharmaceutical company to start producing a diabetes drug from the fruit bitter gourd (Momordica charantia), reports SciDev.Net.

The lead researcher, Souad El Gengaihi, professor of medicinal and aromatic plants at the NRC, told SciDev.Net that bitter gourd, alternatively known as balsam pear, was already used traditionally in Asian medicine.

The plant traditionally grows in hot, sandy areas, which makes it ideal for Middle Eastern countries.

The researchers at NRC are hopeful they can extract the active constituent in balsam pear and use it as an oral alternative to insulin shots. Insulin is normally digested in the stomach, which is why it must be given as injections. However, Moushira Abd Al Salam, a researcher in the NRC’s Medical Research Division, contends that the active constituent in balsam pear has a special coating which protects it from digestion by stomach enzymes.

The research remains, so far, unpublished. While there are many websites selling alternative medicine products based on balsam pear extracts, science research consensus has so far not proven that the fruit can be used in treatment of diabetes.

Study shows speed camera bring road deaths down significantly in Doha

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In the first such study in Qatar, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) suggests that installing speed cameras in the growing capital has dramatically brought down the number of fatal car accidents and injuries.

The research, which was published in Injury Prevention, looked at the number of fatal car accidents from 2000 to 2010. They found a dramatic decrease in motor vehicles accidents after 2007. This was the year when the majority of the speed cameras were installed across the streets of Doha. Traffic death rates dropped from 26 per 100,000 down to 15 per 100,000 after 2007.

This is still much higher than averages in Western Europe and the Untied States, which range from 5 to 10 per 100,000. Until 2007, nearly two-thirds of all trauma-related deaths in Qatar were caused by car accidents with three quarters of the victims being under the age of 50.

The study also found that, while non-fatal severe injuries also decreased, mild injuries actually increased after the installment of the speed cameras.

“Our study shows that the traffic enforcement measures such as speed cameras have helped improve the safety of our roads in Qatar, but more measures are needed to continue to enhance road safety because there is room for improvement,” said Ravinder Mamtani, associate dean for global and public health at WCMC-Q and one of the authors of the study.

Takeaways from Qatar’s Annual Research Forum

This is a guest blogpost from Hazem Zohny, one of Nature Middle East’s regular freelancers based in Cairo, Egypt.

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Qatar’s Second Annual Research Forum took off in Doha on November 20 with a panel of nine highly distinguished speakers discussing the conference theme of “globalization of research.”

Discussions ranged from the potential of regional and intercontinental collaborations, to the pivotal role of Qatar in the future of global research, to the needed of a paradigm shift in science education and science journalism. There was an obvious focus on what Qatar can offer the global community, a theme that was prevalent throughout most of the sessions in the meeting.

Yet perhaps what stood out most was the lack of any women among the nine all-male speakers of this opening panel. When discussing something as global as the “globalization of science”, it would have been nice to get some input from the other half of the human population.

At the risk of sounding like an angry feminist, let me quickly add that I was impressed by the overall role of female scientists throughout the core of this forum – which largely served to highlight some 350 research findings coming out of Qatar this year.

The research itself was exhibited in the form of poster presentations of varying quality. A select dozen of high quality research from the different field covered — environmental, computational, biomedical and social sciences — were further highlighted in intensive oral presentations. Here, male and female scientists played a fairly equal role.

Ultimately, there are two things to take away from this forum:

1) While at times Qatar is clearly of interest to specialists of the aforementioned fields, it is still by no means generating regular, world-class research as of yet.

2) The kind of zeal shown by the scientists and institution directors here — along with Qatar’s ample resources to reinforce that zeal with pretty much all the funding they need — suggests that this tiny Gulf state may well continue to host increasingly impressive Annual Research Forums in the coming years.

Globalization of research

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Qatar’s second Annual Research Forum, currently underway in Doha, hopes to set up the small Gulf state as an important player in the global researcher sector.

“For any country to take it’s place in the world and thrive in a globally competitive marketplace, it must offer value to that global comment,” said Abdelali Haoudi, vice president for research at Qatar Foundation. “The success of Qatar locally should not be separated from the creative use of Qatar’s resources and leadership to advance global development.”

The opening panel brought together a strong, international panel of scientists, including Bruce Alberts, former president of the United States National Academy of Science, Sir Marc Walport, chief executive of the Welcome Trust, and Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of The Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The panel discussed how science research in Qatar can take on a more global aspect, and how educational systems and curricula can be overhauled to take this vision into account.

“That panel is very much intended to be an opening conversation to a real strategic process on what can the Qatar Foundation do, and what should the Qatar Foundation do, to implement that vision of a true renaissance of science in the Arab and Muslim world,” says Richard Klausner, the former director of the National Cancer Institute and producer of the session.

Klausner expects there to be a lot of discussions and work over the next few months to set up real, tangible projects and products along the lines of the advice given by the panel.

“Qatar is committed to becoming a force for global change and development, especially in the fields of science, technology and innovation,” added Haoudi.

Klausner thinks there is much that Qatar can offer the international community. “There’s the actual support of the new tools which are leapfrog tools. These virtualizing and communication tools have a real role to play in enabling science to take place without waiting to build huge institutions with critical masses in every area – that’s going to take a long time.”

He also adds that there is the non-virtual angle, which are real resources, such as scholarships, research collaborations or institutional support. “I think all these options are on the table, last night was the opening of the strategic process to think about what the Qatar Foundation can do. I think the opportunities are endless.”

Hepatitis C workshop scholarships available to Arab young researchers

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Sphinx, a European Union-Mediterranean region scientific cooperation project to study Hepatitis C, is offering young researchers from Arab states scholarships to attend a workshop to learn from leading international researchers.

The Clinical Epidemiology and Biomarker Discovery Workshop will be held at Institut Pasteur, Tunis on 11 – 22 June 2012. It will include theoretical lectures as well as hands-on practical training from experts.

The full scholarships are available mainly to Mediterranean Partner Countries, which are mostly North African states. The organizers are urging young Arab scientists with a background in either epidemiology, immunology or virology to apply, since there will be a significant number of full bursaries available.

Hepatitis C is the largest healthcare burden in Egypt, with some estimates suggesting it infects some 500,000 new people annually.

The Sphinx consortium is linking up researchers in Europe, Egypt and Tunisia to study Hepatitis C virus (HCV) 4, which is the HCV strain persistent in Africa and one of the least studied strains, in order to improve treatments and come up with new therapies.

Young researchers interested in applying for the scholarship have until the end of the year to do this, by filling the workshop form at Sphinx’s website.

UNESCO vote recognizes Palestine

<img alt=“unesco.jpg” align=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/unesco.jpg” width=“280” height=“212” />In a landmark vote on 31 October, 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine as a full member of the organization.

Palestine became the 195th state in UNESCO, passed by a vote of 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions.

France, Ireland, Austria, and most of Latin America and Asia – along with Arab states, voted “yes”. The United States, Israel, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany were among those who voted “no”. The United Kingdom and Japan were among the states that abstained.

The vote does not create a Palestinian state nor does it play part in critical decisions such as borders and the status of Jerusalem city. The recognition of Palestine in UNESCO is seen largely as a symbolic move. But it is part of larger Palestinian efforts to seek more international recognition, hoping to inch slowly towards an independent state.

Following the vote, the United States said it will cut off its funding to UNESCO, which it is legally bound to do due to a decision taken by Congress in 1994, which would stop funding to any UN organization that recognizes Palestine. The US is the largest funder to UNESCO, amounting to 22% of its budget – more than US$80 million annually. The funding gap could jeopardize much of UNESCO’s work worldwide.

The Palestinians already plan to submit an application to make the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem a world heritage site, and this is expected to be the first fruit from UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine.

Conference of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences in Doha

Last week, the Qatari capital Doha hosted the 18th Conference of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS). This year’s theme is ““The Islamic World and the West: Rebuilding bridges through science and technology”

Nidhal Guessoum, an astrophysicist and professor of physics at American University of Sharjah, and author of Islam’s Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science, attended the conference and reported on some interesting sessions on the Irtiqa blog.

Of particular interest was a talk by Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia. Mohamad, who is often credited with upheaval of Malaysia’s science and research, stressed how important it is for the Islamic world to learn from the West rather than eye it with suspicion, much like the West learned from the Islamic world during the Islamic Golden Age.

While Arab states have for long regarded the West with suspicion, mainly due to certain foreign policy choices both parties have made, science has so far been one of the few forces capable of building bridges between the two. In fact, during Barack Obama’s first speech to the Arab and Islamic states from Cairo, he stressed that he would like to build bridges through science.

Science has also bridged the divide between the Islamic world and the West through the large number of Western universities that have started launching offshore campuses in the Middle East. This ranges from Weill Cornell Medical College and Texas A&M University in Qatar to New York University in Abu Dhabi. These offshore campuses are acting as links between the Middle East and their home campuses and have given birth to much collaborative science research between both regions.

The Islamic world must realize that, by the very nature of modern science, there is a need to collaborate and build on what came before if there is to be a new science renaissance in the region.

Guessoum also reports on how Mohamad stressed that, with the current upheavals and protests spreading from the Arab world to as far away as the United States and Japan, both the West and the Islamic world have much to learn from each other. He suggests that the West can learn from Islamic economic models to streamline its financial systems, while the Islamic world can learn from the rigorous advanced administrations models of Western institutions.

It is advice that scientists in the Arab world, and the greater Islamic world, would do good to heed.

You can read more from the original post here.

Young researchers receive awards in Dubai osteoporosis meeting

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During the International Osteoporosis Foundation’s (IOF) 1st Middle East & Africa Osteoporosis Meeting, held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, six young researchers from the region were recognized for their research abstracts presented during the regional meetings of IOF.

The IOF offers annual Young Investigator Awards at all its regional meetings, in an effort to advance scientific knowledge and research on osteoporosis and encourage young researchers to engage in bone research.

Each of the six winners was awarded US$1,000 and given a slot to present their research during a special plenary session at the IOF Regionals – 1st Middle-East & Africa Osteoporosis Meeting, which is the largest bone event ever held in the region so far.

The winners are:

Patricia Khashayar (Iran): Appropriateness of the BMD orders among insured Iranians

Aref A. Bin Abdulhak (Saudi Arabia): Transient osteoporosis of the hip with involvement of the surrounding soft tissue: A case report

Ahmed Abdulbari (Iraq): Determination of procollagen I N-terminal peptide and osteopontin in postmenopausal women with vertebral osteoporotic fractures

Ghazala Naureen (Pakistan): Determination of bone health status in community dwelling females in Karachi, Pakistan

Aliaa Hossameldin Ghoneim (Saudi Arabia): Vitamin D status, serum calcium level, and bone mineral density in male patients with type II diabetes mellitus in Saudi Arabia

H. Balkhyoor (Saudi Arabia): Vitamin D status in premenopausal women and its association with the metabolic syndrome and its individual components: A cross-sectional study (Winner of the Fonterra Brands-supported IOF Young Investigator Award for nutrition-related osteoporosis research)

Saudi Arabia recalls students from Yemen

Amid the ongoing unrest and violence in Yemen, Saudi Arabia announced it will recall all its students who are pursuing higher education in its troubled southern neighbour, Abdullah Al-Moussa, deputy minister of higher education for scholarship student affairs, told Saudi English-language newspaper ArabNews

The decision will affect 517 Saudi students who are in Yemen on government-funded scholarships. According to Al-Moussa, the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education has stopped the monthly stipends that students recieve and instructed them to seek universities in other countries to continue their research.

The decision follows the death of a 23-year-old Saudi student who was studying in the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a. The Saudi Arabian embassy in Sana’a confirmed that Muhammad Saleh bin Abdat Al-Kuthairi was shot dead, and investigations in the incidence are still ongoing.

Al-Moussa added that the government refused the decision of several students who wanted to go back to Yemen on their own responsibility.

According to Al-Moussa, there are more than 105,000 Saudi students studying abroad in some 500 universities and colleges either Arabian or Western, and that number will likely continue to increase.