The group has been working on an environmentally safe method for increasing the yield of the Nile tilapia, better known in Israel as St. Peter’s fish. Israeli researchers are working closely with Palestinian counterparts on a number of scientific projects designed not only to lead to breakthroughs which will help mankind but to also support the growth of the burgeoning Palestinian scientific community.

Thanks to funding from Detusche Forschunsgemeinschaft (DFG), the German Research Foundation, Israeli, Palestinian and German researchers from Hebrew University, Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem and the University of Hohenheim in Germany, are working closely together in trilateral cooperation on a number of projects.

The group has been working on an environmentally safe method for increasing the yield of the Nile tilapia, better known in Israel as St. Peter’s fish. Success of the project, it is hoped, will lead to fish pond farming in the Palestinian economy, something which is very rare at present.

The project involves introduction of a compound extracted from the plant fenugreek into ponds containing newly born fish. The compound will have an androgenic effect, changing female fish into males. Since male tilapia grow 20 percent faster than females, the sex change increases production efficiency and lowers costs. Limited numbers of young females are separated before this treatment and kept in separate ponds for future procreation.

Although this process already exists, the androgenic material currently used for this purpose is regarded as not healthy for either human consumption or the environment. Experimental work will show that the organic compound derived by the Israeli-German-Palestinian team from the fenugreek plant (which is known to Arab and Jewish Yemenite consumers as the primary component of the ‘hilbe’ condiment) can have the same ‘sex change’ effect on the tilapia while constituting no threat to the human diet.

Currently a water recirculation system is being built at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem to facilitate further work on this project, which has been ongoing for a year.

“The trilateral cooperation program funded by the DFG is a unique success story which has allowed true and solid cooperative scientific work to go forward under difficult conditions,” said Prof. Hillel Bercovier, vice-president for research and development at the Hebrew University. “It has built and consolidated sciences and science infrastructures in the institutions that needed it the most. It has also helped in retaining scientists in the region and in building friendship and leadership that will work together for a better future and peace.”

Another ongoing research project of the trilateral program is aimed at developing gene therapy for treatment of bladder cancer. The project is known as ‘Individualized DNA based therapy of bladder cancer.’

Bladder carcinoma (TCC) is one of the most prevalent cancers worldwide, including in Germany and Middle Eastern countries. It is characterized by great biological and clinical heterogeneity.

Available therapies include surgery and chemotherapy, which are limited in efficacy by recurrences of tumors and systemic spread of invasive cancers. Therefore, molecular markers are needed to enable early prognosis and for improved therapeutic treatment. Ideally, they could help to select individualized therapies.

The goals of the joint Israeli-German Palestinian project are to continue ongoing research towards development of molecular markers for TCC prognosis and of a DNA-based gene therapy which will make it possible not only to identify bladder cancer at an early stage – thereby greatly improving chances of successful treatment – but also to better cope with this and other cancers in a manner tailored to the properties of each tumor.