Najajreh: Celebrating Al-Quds, Western partnership

Al-Quds University in Palestine and Western, realizing the advantages of expanded international co-operation for research and education, signed an agreement to promote a joint effort in 2009. This summer, we turned that agreement into action with my visit to Western and the Lawson Health Research Institute (“Western hosts faculty from Al-Quds University,” Aug. 8).

At Al-Quds University, I am a medicinal chemist/researcher who leads the Anticancer Drugs Research Laboratory and serves as dean of scientific research. This summer, I spent 50 days in London working with Western professor Dr. James Koropatnick and the London Regional Cancer Program.

My team has designed and synthesized new platinum-containing anticancer drugs. Although platinum-based drugs have been used since the 1980s, certain chemical characteristics limit their usefulness.

In partnership, Koropatnick and I are testing the capacity of these new anticancer drugs, designed to overcome those limitations. And the research has turned out to be particularly fruitful.

Bringing together our knowledge at Al-Quds with the tremendous resources at Western, including infrastructure for biological evaluation at Western and Lawson that is limited or missing at Al-Quds, is an exciting new development for me.

Between sessions at the laboratory bench, we explored enhancements to this project to take advantage of complementary resources and expertise. The small-but-generous seed funding provided by Western through the office of Ted Hewitt (vice-president, research and international relations) and Al-Quds has generated exciting new evidence of potential for therapeutic application in cancer treatment. A joint proposal between Koropatnick and I, describing that data and future research plans, has been prepared (with the valuable assistance of professor Rand Askalan at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto) to elicit additional support through a competitive funding application to Ontario and Palestine.

I see this project as the beginning of multiple collaborations involving many more Canadian and Palestinian researchers at several institutions. Together, we can target other diseases and medical problems, broad biological questions and issues in the broader realm of science, medicine and culture of mutual interest to Canada and the Middle East.

Exchanges between the two communities in Palestine and Canada, particularly for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty, were discussed during the busy summer and are being put into effect this fall and spring. Enhancements to the Western/Al-Quds co-operative research agreement signed in 2009, including formal designations for faculty from one university at the other, are also being explored.

Though now far from Canada and Western, I am still living with the flavour of the 50 days I spent in London. It is not only the science, but also the kindness of people and the loveliness of Ontario’s natural setting that remains with me. It was great luck to come across Jim, his group and his wife, Jane. My wife, Mona, and my children (who travelled with me) had a wonderful summer in London while I was in the lab. Our stay in Elgin Hall was unforgettable. The Elgin staff and particularly Melanie Harvey, the manager of Western’s Conference Services, were extraordinarily warm and welcoming. I was thrilled to get the chance to meet such kind and supportive people.

Yousef Najajreh