Around the world with our members: pharmacology in Egypt

“You can be anywhere you want in the world, meet different people and learn more than a hundred things in a matter of minutes… all you have to do is READ!” – C.M. Okonkwo 

Dear readers, please fasten your seat belts and be prepared for a short journey to a country that has growing representation in the British Pharmacological Society's membership – Egypt – the millennia-old country, the land of pyramids and Pharaohs, where medicine probably started. Let’s explore the history and future of pharmacology there.  

The medical practices of the ancient Egyptians are some of the oldest documented and greatly influenced later civilizations, including the Greeks. Ancient Egyptians practiced pharmacology through investigating and discovering the medicinal properties of plant life around them. They also used animal faeces, fish bones and even metals as remedies. Several papyri such as the Edwin Smith papyrus (Figure 1) and the Ebers papyrus, documented many recipes, including for birth control and illnesses such as headaches and colon disorders. Some of the remedies were topical (ointments and wrappings), others were oral (pills and mouth rinses), others were inhaled.  

Figure 1 - the Edwin Smith papyrus, the earliest known medical document, written around 1600 BCE and thought to be based on material from as early as 3000 BCE

Improvements in medicine and pharmacology continued in Egypt during the other antiquity civilizations. The School of Alexandrian Medicine was set up in old Alexandria in Egypt in the third century BCE. The School of Alexandrian Medicine was greatly influenced by the medical practices of ancient Egypt, despite its Hippocratic teachings. Many graduates of this school are among the luminaries of pharmacology, such as Apollodorus of Alexandria (third century BCE) and Callimachus of Bithynia (later third century BCE). 

Further advances occurred in medicine and pharmacology in Egypt during the Golden Age of the Islamic civilization (spanning the 8th to the 15th centuries) and developed what is now known as Islamic medicine. Islamic medicine was written in Arabic and was the most advanced in the world during the post-classical era as it used classical concepts to make numerous advances and innovations. Among the effective contributions of Islamic medicine in the field of pharmacology was the development of anaesthesia and antisepsis for surgery. For example, the use of opium to cause a person to lose consciousness before an operation can be attributed to Islamic medicine. It also introduced mercuric chloride to disinfect wounds and used various herbs and resins to prevent infections when performing procedures.  

Nowadays, pharmacology is becoming an essential medical science studied in the universities of Egypt. It is a main undergraduate course for medical, pharmaceutical, nursing and veterinary students. Pharmacology is also an important discipline in different Egyptian research centres and institutes, such as the National Research Centre (NRC), which is the largest multidisciplinary research and development centre in Egypt. 

The NRC is dedicated to basic and applied research within health, environment, agriculture, engineering, basic sciences and industry. The department of pharmacology is one of the NRC's medical division departments and is currently comprised of 56 research staff members and 5 technicians – most are women and 57% are younger than 40. 

The vision of the department of pharmacology in the NRC is to become a top-ranked research centre in the discipline of pharmacology nationally and throughout the Middle East and North Africa region. Its mission is to conduct and promote innovative drug research to solve health problems in Egypt, such as chronic liver diseases, cancer, geriatric diseases, as well as obesity and associated complications. The department aims to do this through employing qualified researchers, fostering scientific activities and incorporating state of the art technologies. The department also aims to create a productive research environment, ensure compliance to the current good laboratory practices and continuously develop the department's quality standards according to the NRC’s accreditation plan

The department ensures a continuous fund through application for national and international grants, such as the Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF) and Horizon 2020. To increase the supply of contemporary skills and knowledge, the department encourages the international collaboration and mobility of its research staff and 25% of the current members either are or have been studying or conducting postdoctoral research internationally, in countries including the UK, USA, Canada, Germany and France. It also supports the participation of its members in prestigious international thematic conferences and workshops. Moreover, for its activities to effectively impact the drug industry and quality of life of patients and to be compatible with the national vision, researchers are provided with the most recent updates about the nation’s drug policies, regulations and guidelines.  

Members of the department are experts in using experimental animal models and conducting in vivo studies. They have published in high impact international journals such as Journal of Advanced Research, Journal of Controlled Release, Plos One, Pharmacological Reports and the European Journal of Pharmacology. Many of them are active members of significant national and international professional associations and Societies including the British Pharmacological Society and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World.  

Among the activities of the NRC's pharmacology department members are the supervision of internal and external postgraduate research students, and establishing and implementing laboratory and practical pharmacology training courses for national and international undergraduate and postgraduate candidates. The members take part in voluntary medical caravans organised by the NRC to educate poorer communities in Egypt about the properties of the drugs they use. They also work with the media by publishing articles in newspapers and magazines and taking part in TV and radio programs. 

Looking to the future of pharmacology in Egypt, it is encouraging that pharmacology has been reported as Egypt’s key strength in research and innovation according to data studying the period between 2005–2010. The study showed that the most significant contributions of Egypt’s research output as a proportion of the world’s, field by field, were in pharmacology (0.71%). Building on these encouraging findings we hope to continue to advance pharmacology, both in Egypt and globally.  




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Published: 14 Aug 2019
Category: Your Society

About the author

Rehab Hegazy

Rehab is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology of the Medical Division at the National Research Centre, Egypt. She also teaches the BSc Clinical Pharmacology course for Pharmacy students in several Egyptian universities. Rehab has 17 years of research and teaching experience in the field of Pharmacology and Toxicology and is an active member of many national and international professional associations and scientific Societies - including the Egyptian Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World and the British Pharmacological Society. Rehab is a member of the Society’s International Advisory Group and is one of two representatives from Africa.

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