Palestinians, Israelis work together to clear medicines from water

Joint Israeli-Palestinian research team is working to eradicate pharmaceutical materials from treated waste-water.

Bird in water 521 (photo credit: Matanya)
Bird in water 521
(photo credit: Matanya)
For a group of Palestinian and Israeli researchers investigating methods to completely purify water from medicinal materials, working together is nothing short of critical.
“It is a must,” Dr. Rafik Karaman, of Al-Quds University’s College of Pharmacy in Abu Dis, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
The joint Palestinian-Israeli research team from Al-Quds University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is working to assess the use of advanced membrane and bio-degradation technologies for eradicating pharmaceutical materials from treated waste-water. Organized by the Peres Center for Peace and sponsored by the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, the two-year project aims to investigate the degradation and removal processes of certain drugs found in aquatic environments that come from both domestic and industrial sources.
“In order to facilitate and progress with the research, we need the expertise of the Israeli side,” said Karaman, who is the principal researcher on the Palestinian side. “We can learn from them and they can learn from us, and this way you can do good research in Palestine.”
The research mechanisms consist of a variety of different removal method studies, examining biological treatments, advanced membrane filtration and absorption technologies.
Over the course of the collaborative project, both leading researchers and graduate students from each institution are to meet regularly to discuss their findings.
These forums, the Peres Center explained, are designed “to facilitate increased cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian research participants and further advance the academic and peace-building elements of the project.”
The project has entered its second of the two years and will conclude in March, according to the researchers.
From the Palestinian side, the team members at Al-Quds are using a series of micelleclay complex membranes to remove byproducts of certain drugs and then test the membranes’ removal success rates.
Thus far, the researchers have achieved a 100-percent success rate and have been able to complete removal of all traces of paracetamol, cortisone, ibuprofen, diazepam (known by the common brand name Valium) and cholesterol-lowering statins (such as Lipitor), Karaman explained.
The Al-Quds team has already written three papers on the success of its work, and it will soon begin work on a joint paper with the Technion team, he said.
“We are continuing with some other pharmaceuticals and hopefully we publish another two papers, with the Technion,” Karaman said.
“The second year will be a complete collaboration.”
While the work together is critical, Karaman stressed that it is nothing new, as Al-Quds researchers have been working with Technion researchers for around a decade on various wastewater projects.
This is the second such project under the auspices of the Peres Center, he explained, crediting the center for enabling them to pursue the research together.
“You learn from the relationship,” Karaman said. “I learn a lot and I also give a lot.”
From the Israeli side, the Technion research team is led by Prof. Carlos Dosoretz, head of the environmental, water and agricultural engineering division at the Technion’s Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
The Dosoretz lab members have divided their experimentation into two – testing the capabilities of reverse osmosis membranes to remove the drugs as well as biodegradation performance of certain bacteria, explained Sofia Lerman, an engineer in the lab.
“We also had similar results in the membrane system,” Lerman said. “Most of the compounds were completely removed to 100%.”
Biodegradation was a bit less successful, although more than half of the medicinal materials were still eradicated, she explained. In Lerman’s mind, a solution that combines both the use of membranes and biodegradation technologies would be ideal.
Like the Al-Quds lab, the Technion researchers are testing their technologies with paracetamol and ibuprofen, but they are also using carbamazepine (an epilepsy drug), iopromide (a radiography contrast medium), dexamethasone (a steroid), ketoprofen (an anti-inflammatory drug), clopidogrel (a blood thinner) and spiramycin (an antibiotic).
This week, Lerman and the Technion team are hosting some of the Al-Quds students to teach them a new method for using membrane technologies.
This, she explained, is a great testament to the fruits of the two institutions’ work together.
“We can compare results and think together, so it’s definitely good for brainstorming,” Lerman added.
Prof. Emeritus Josef Hagin, of the Technion’s Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is responsible for coordinating the entire cooperative project, and he has been working on Israeli- Palestinian-Jordanian wastewater research collaborations for years.
Hagin described the fact that Al-Quds students are spending time in the Technion working with researchers there as “real cooperation.”
Over the course of the project, the teams have had several meetings, including a large one in Cyprus a few months ago, he explained. There, for two days, senior researchers and graduate students presented all of the work that had been accomplished thus far in both places.
This Thursday, another seminar will occur at the Technion.
“They are not so different really – that’s the point,” Hagin said. “They speak the same language. They are scientists in the same field of science. Personally, we have very good contact and even friendship.”
To Karaman, the cooperation taking place here is an indicator that scientists – and the logical personalities they embody – have the potential to be a bridge between peoples.
“They can think about solutions, problems, understand different cultures,” he said.
While this project concludes in March, Karaman said he hopes that the process of working together with the Technion researchers will continue.
“We work very, very hard in doing this kind of collaboration,” he said.