Noted pomegranate researcher Dr. Ephraim Lansky in his natural habitat. (Photo: Debbie Zimelman)
A renovated tailor’s workshop in the old Turkish market in Haifa is an unlikely setting for the hub of a research company. But it’s here that the Israeli company Rimonest Ltd. and its co-founder Dr. Ephraim Lansky are finding new ways to bring pomegranate extracts to the American public and working on innovations which have resulted in a cascade of worldwide research confirming the health benefits of pomegranate extracts.
It is his work that has “helped put bottles of pomegranate juice on the shelves of supermarkets all over the world” quips Lansky in his lab.
Lansky’s latest innovation is a nutraceutical health supplement – a pomegranate capsule which an upstate New York company – Arben Bioscience – has begun marketing, They’ve distributed the supplement to 100 health food stores nationally – most recently in Hawaii – and directly to customers on its Web site, www.pomhealth.com. Each bottle costs about $30.
Today, Lansky’s overseeing a mailing to Arben Bioscience of his first box of samples of Rimonest’s 100 proof (50% alcohol) eau de vie – hand-distilled and manufactured according to ancient alchemical practices from organic pomegranate wine. Called Spagyric after a term coined by Paracelsus, the 15th century Swiss physician who pioneered the use of chemical remedies, this is a very classy drink that will knock you back about $40 for a 200ml bottle.
A cutting-edge science laboratory with a sideline in medieval alcohol production? What is going on here?
‘Serendipity’ is a word Lansky uses a lot. Take the very beginning of his interest in the pomegranate.
In 1991 as a practicing MD in the US with an interest in herb medicine, he was invited to an international conference on medicinal and aromatic plants in Israel. While perusing the conference’s program he noticed the quote on the cover from the Song of Songs, attributed to King Solomon. A whole collection of plants were mentioned, and Lansky’s interest was sparked by the pomegranate.
A search of the scientific literature revealed a solitary paper published in 1964 in which an Egyptian team discovered that oil from pomegranate seeds has a high content of the female hormone estrone. They demonstrated its hormonal effect on rabbits and mice, all well before estrogens of plant origin, phytoestrogens like those in soy, became part of the ‘alternative’ regime for menopausal women.
At the next conference in 1992, Lansky presented a paper on this work which captured the interest of Professor Dan Palevitch, of the Department of Agriculture at the Hebrew University in Rehovot, a well-known figure in herbal medicine in Israel.
“He encouraged me to move to Israel to pursue research into the health properties of pomegranates,” Lansky told ISRAEL21c.
The early days of research began on Lansky’s Haifa kitchen table while he was also learning Hebrew. Palevitch drove him out to a government agricultural establishment where he collected sacks of pomegranates. Lansky first had to isolate the tiny white seeds that are embedded in the glistening ruby red arils of the pomegranate, and they were then cold-pressed to produce oil. 500 kg of pomegranates produce a mere 1 kg of oil.
Fresh from the kitchen table Lansky went to the Technion to find a laboratory where he could research estrogenic properties of his precious pomegranate oil. Serendipity intervened again and he found himself diverted by a professor of food sciences, Ishak Neeman, who was already set up to investigate anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Why not test the pomegranate oil and wine?
In 1999 their landmark paper was published – pomegranate extracts showed high anti-oxidant activity, the stuff of potential anti-cancer therapies.
The same year Rimonest Ltd was launched as part of Israel’s prestigious Technion incubator, receiving a start-up grant of $400,000 from the government’s Ministry of Trade and Industry. A laboratory was rented at the Technion campus in Haifa. Lansky could now follow his first interest and confirm the estrogenic properties of pomegranate seed oil. But something unexpected happened.
“Professor Neeman said ‘let’s throw in a little pomegranate juice’ into the experimental set-up,” said Lansky. An anti-estrogenic effect was discovered, big news because these were the compounds that possibly prevent breast cancer.
The research was on a roll. Lansky ordered in some of the enzyme aromatase, a chemical which turns testosterone into estrogen in the female body. He was ready to investigate the effects with pomegranate juice, oil and peel, when serendipity stepped in again. The food technologist in his research team was pregnant and she was not going to mess with enzymes and chemicals that impact on sex hormones.
She left, and in his quest for new personnel, Lansky began instead to farm out his research. In 2000 he had related research in progress in twenty laboratories worldwide; from Japan and Korea, to the UK and throughout the US.
The main conclusions of all this research with pomegranate extracts over the past five years confirms: anti-cancer properties, especially with cells involved in breast cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia.
Lansky mentions a clinical trial in 2004 by his Technion colleague Professor Michael Aviram, which shows that a glass of pomegranate juice a day can actually reverse the effects of atherosclerosis, the condition in which narrowing or hardening of the arteries restricts blood flow.
And now Lansky is ready to bring the benefits of the pomegranate to the masses with the new capsule form. The co-operative enterprise with Arben began with a chance meeting three years ago at an international biotechnology conference in Jerusalem with the company’s president, Neal Holtzman,
Holtzman and his partner Stephen Schwartz had previously concentrated on marketing a disposable pregnancy kit, and while this remains an increasingly important product line for the company, Schwartz told ISRAEL21c that they realized that “the dietary supplement marketplace is a growing market.”
“Dr. Lansky’s research is inseparable from the knowledge base we have today about the pomegranate’s extraordinary health benefits. His careful and brilliant work has lead to important discoveries about the pomegranate’s complex potential to combat heart disease, hormonal imbalance, and several forms of cancer. We share his passion for pomegranates, and we are proud to be working with him to develop premium consumer health products based on his research,” said Schwartz.
Arben and Lansky are now poised to ensure that pomegranate extracts will be available globally through other major nutraceutical companies. Negotiations are in progress at this time.
The focus of Lansky’s scientific research remains the anti-cancer and hormonal properties of pomegranate extracts. He is planning to develop a complex drug – “a soup of different pomegranate extracts”, having already demonstrated that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts.
It’s called a ‘synergy’ effect and his published research shows it’s more effective in eliminating prostate cancer cells to use juice, oil, and peel than to use any individually.
This is a long-term and very expensive project, but Lansky he now has on board an administrative and financial expert, who was formerly chief financial officer of L’Oreal Israel. They met at a bar mitzvah party. Serendipity again.
And the 100 proof eau de vie? It’s a sideline, a way of recycling all the alcohol produced when the pomegranate juice is fermented. Although Rimonest relies on major investments, it will be a source of cash flow.
“You never know when someone buys a bottle and reads the label – it says: ‘The total proceeds from the sale of these pure pomegranate spirits are applied toward the development of a complete pharmaceutical product from pomegranate fruit for the treatment and prevention of human cancers.’ They could decide to invest in our research.”
Cheers, here’s to serendipity!