New discovery in UAEU research project on cancer-tackling qualities of honey

Researchers at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) have taken their groundbreaking studies into the role of honey in battling cancer a step further. — Courtesy photo
Researchers at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) have taken their groundbreaking studies into the role of honey in battling cancer a step further. — Courtesy photo

Researchers at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) have taken their groundbreaking studies into the role of honey in battling cancer a step further, through new findings that pinpoint its potential impact.

The beneficial effects of Manuka honey — renowned for its anti-bacterial properties and capacity to heal wounds — as an anti-cancer agent were identified in 2013 by a research group headed by Dr. Basel Al-Ramadi, then chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology within UAEU’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences (CMHS).

Now further investigation by the team has discovered a particular molecular aspect of breast cancer that this type of honey can combat, paving the way for the development of new understanding about precisely how it can be used to fight one of the world’s most serious diseases, and enhancing UAEU’s reputation for pioneering medical research capable of global impact.

The initial research by Dr. Al-Ramadi and his colleagues demonstrated that tiny amounts of Manuka honey could prevent the growth of several types of cancer cells — including melanoma, breast adenocarcinoma, and colorectal cancer — since when they have filed a patent application in the US concerning their work.

Experiments conclusively proved even a small dose of the honey induces apoptosis — or programmed cell death — in cancer cells, using the same physiological process that the human body deploys to maintain cellular homeostasis, a balance between the need for new cells to be generated and unwanted ones to be discarded that ensures the body remains healthy.

“In our latest publication, we have identified — for the first time — a potential molecular target within human breast cancer cells that is inhibited by Manuka honey,” said Dr. Al-Ramadi, professor of Cancer Immunology at UAEU. The identified molecular target acts as a master switch and regulates multiple functions of breast cancer cells, including their growth, migration and metastatic capacity. Manuka honey appears to turn off this master switch, thereby inhibiting the ability of cancer cells to survive. These new findings were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Oncology.

“Our findings will help us to further dissect the unique properties of Manuka honey and their effect on cancer growth and metastasis. Our greatest source of pride is the fact that all of these new findings have come about as a result of experiments supported by, and accomplished at, UAEU and its CMHS. The new findings are the result of a collaborative effort also involving the laboratories of Dr. Maria Fernandez-Cabezudo (Department of Biochemistry) and Dr. Samir Attoub (Department of Pharmacology) at the CMHS.

“I sincerely hope that our new findings will provide new avenues to pursue in this area of research.” The research team’s experiments have not only shown that Manuka honey can be an anti-cancer agent, but that it can work in conjunction with standard chemotherapeutic agents, reducing their toxic side-effects while still maintaining their overall effectiveness.

Their studies reflect the increasing worldwide focus on complementary and alternative approaches to tackling cancer, due to the limitations of treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery for breast and other cancers. Metastatic breast cancer cells are often resistant to almost all currently-available therapies, while triple-negative breast cancers have an inherent resistance to chemotherapy, heightening the risk of recurrence.

Founded in 1976 by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, UAEU is a comprehensive, research-intensive university enrolling about 14,000 Emirati and international students. As the UAE’s flagship university, UAEU offers a full range of accredited, high-quality graduate and undergraduate programs through nine Colleges: Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Food and Agriculture; Humanities and Social Sciences; IT; Law; Medicine and Health Sciences; and Science.

With a distinguished international faculty, state-of-the art new campus, and full range of student support services, UAEU offers a living-learning environment that is unmatched in the UAE.

As a research-intensive university of international stature, UAEU works with its partners in industry to provide research solutions to challenges faced by the nation, the region, and the world. The University has established research centers of strategic importance to the country and the region which are advancing knowledge in critical areas ranging from water resources to cancer treatments. — SG