Abu Dhabi: After coming across historical writings on how Emiratis used to treat cataracts with a medicinal plant, a New York University Abu Dhabi graduate delved further into the subject as part of her graduate research programme, examining the plant and its potential use for modern day medicine. “When I set out on my research project, I wanted to narrow it down to useful medicinal plants that have not been studied much, and it was during that time that I came across some writings about Emiratis who were using one such medicinal plant when it came to treating cataracts,” said Yumi Gambrill, an American graduate who majored in chemistry as part of the class of 2018.

“My goal was to take a scientific look at this plant — Cleome rupicola — and to study its compounds to try and get a scientific answer to its medical benefits. Until now, there hasn’t been a lot of research on this plant despite the fact that it has been referenced as one that was used to treat cataract by Emiratis in the past,” she added.

To get samples of the plant for laboratory tests, Gambrill went to Masafi.

“It was really nice to be able to go out and see these different parts of the UAE in a way I hadn’t before. It was a very different environment to what I was used to in Abu Dhabi.

“The area where we found the samples from was also really interesting — there was flowing water, different kinds of plants and animals, and so there was a lot of biodiversity in an area that many would not usually associate it with,” she added.

Once she got her samples, Gambrill took them to the lab for further studies which, she said, pointed to some positive signs.

“When I analysed the plant I found there was a strong activity of antioxidants, which, given the hypothesis that antioxidant activity helps prevent cataracts, made that a very encouraging finding.”

Gambrill said the next few months were spent trying to get a purified compound extraction from the plant in a way that could be used, and added that she managed to get a purified compound of less than a milligram.

“This compound serves as the first step in the development of an anti-cataract drug, and verifies the modern relevance of a historically significant medicinal plant.”

Gambrill says a lot more research is still required, and that she would be making all of her findings available for any future researchers who wish to further develop the study.

“The work and research is getting ready to be published in a scientific journal. There is a long way to go but the initial work has started and I think there is a big potential in this area for doing something that helps treat cataracts.

“There is a huge push at the moment towards medicinal treatment for cataracts as they are most prevalent in developing nations, and a lot of people in those places don’t have access to surgeons or the finances to cover their treatment,” she added.