Bring on the smells! Here’s an excerpt from an article from BBC News. The entire article gives more background on the incense trade and history too.
But immunologist Mahmoud Suhail is hoping to open a new chapter in the history of frankincense.
Scientists have observed that there is some agent within frankincense which stops cancer spreading, and which induces cancerous cells to close themselves down. He is trying to find out what this is.
The Catholic church mostly buys Somalian frankincense
“Cancer starts when the DNA code within the cell’s nucleus becomes corrupted,” he says. “It seems frankincense has a re-set function. It can tell the cell what the right DNA code should be.
“Frankincense separates the ‘brain’ of the cancerous cell – the nucleus – from the ‘body’ – the cytoplasm, and closes down the nucleus to stop it reproducing corrupted DNA codes.”
Working with frankincense could revolutionise the treatment of cancer. Currently, with chemotherapy, doctors blast the area around a tumour to kill the cancer, but that also kills healthy cells, and weakens the patient. Treatment with frankincense could eradicate the cancerous cells alone and let the others live.
The task now is to isolate the agent within frankincense which, apparently, works this wonder. Some ingredients of frankincense are allergenic, so you cannot give a patient the whole thing.
FRANKINCENSE FACTSBoswellia sacra grows in Oman, Yemen and SomaliaOther Boswellia species grow in Africa and IndiaThe tree may have been named after John Boswell, the uncle of Samuel Johnson’s biographerIn ancient Egypt frankincense was thought to be sweat of the godsSource: The Pharmaceutical Journal
Dr Suhail (who is originally from Iraq) has teamed up with medical scientists from the University of Oklahoma for the task.
In his laboratory in Salalah, he extracts the essential oil from locally produced frankincense. Then, he separates the oil into its constituent agents, such as Boswellic acid.
“There are 17 active agents in frankincense essential oil,” says Dr Suhail. “We are using a process of elimination. We have cancer sufferers – for example, a horse in South Africa – and we are giving them tiny doses of each agent until we find the one which works.”
“Some scientists think Boswellic acid is the key ingredient. But I think this is wrong. Many other essential oils – like oil from sandalwood – contain Boswellic acid, but they don’t have this effect on cancer cells. So we are starting afresh.”
The trials will take months to conduct and whatever results come out of them will take longer still to be verified. But this is a blink of the eye in the history of frankincense.
Nine thousand years ago, Omanis gathered it and burnt it for its curative and cleansing properties. It could be a key to the medical science of tomorrow.
Jeremy Howell reports for Middle East Business Report on BBC World News.