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[CAIRO] Researchers in Saudi Arabia say they have identified a substance in camel urine that could cure cancer, but the early stage research is awaiting approval from the Saudi Food and Drug Authority before further studies can be conducted.

The researchers, based at King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Jeddah, will present their research at the 2nd Biotechnology World Congress in Dubai this month (18­–21 February), although the Middle Eastern media have been publicising claims about the substance's potential cancer-curing properties since at least 2009.

However, Safia Danovi, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, says: "Until the researchers publish their results in a peer-reviewed journal, it’s difficult to judge the significance of this work".The research team says the substance they have extracted contains macro- and nano-particles and different types of metals. Some of these metals appear to help the substance selectively target cancer cells, although their nature is still under investigation, they say.

"This new smart drug is based on the latest frontiers in nanotechnology, which include nanoshells [a type of spherical nanoparticle] as the drug carrier," Gehan Ahmed, KAU's head of medical biophysics research, tells SciDev.Net.

Faten Abdel-Rahman Khorshid,  head of KAU's tissue culture unit and the project's principal investigator, says: "We made a natural product medicine, proved its safety and efficiency in vitro [in test tubes] and in vivo on animal models, and finished phase I clinical trials on healthy volunteers with no side effects".

The researchers claim they have also conducted a phase I trial on people with tumours, yet to be published, which showed some promising results.

"Some of our results have been published and we plan to publish [the rest of] them in a full research paper in an international journal," Khorshid says.

Yet, Khorshid says they have not yet got the green light from the Saudi Food and Drug Authority to conduct further trials.

The Saudi Food and Drug Authority did not reply to requests to comment on this article.

Michael Jewett, a urology professor and bladder cancer specialist at the University of Toronto, Canada, says he was "impressed" by the research, but warns that further evidence of its ability to cure cancer is needed.

"I am pleased that there is ongoing work to validate this experience in a scientific way," he tells SciDev.Net. "This is not an easy problem to address and there needs to be some high level peer-reviewed scientific reports of evidence […] to move this field forward."

And Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, is sceptical of the claims.

"There is no evidence here that this new treatment does anything to the natural history of human cancers," he tells SciDev.Net. "Even if there were positive results, it would be wise to wait for independent replications.

Link to abstract of paper to be presented at the 2nd Biotechnology World Congress in Dubai