Adnane Remmal – Boosting antibiotics with essential oils

Adnane Remmal – Boosting antibiotics with essential oils


The ‘Blue Gate’ in Fez, Morocco, is the entrance to a different world. Anyone who passes through it finds themselves in the Old Town. The medina of Morocco’s oldest royal city – a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. A place full of history, colours and, above all, aromas. This is the world of Adnane Remmal. “Aromatic plants and spices have been used in the Moroccan culture for a very long time. For medicinal purposes, to cure various ailments, as well as in cooking. Even before I became a scientist, I was convinced that aromatic plants contained pharmaceutical active ingredients.” And aromatic plants and spices did indeed become very important for the pharmacologist Adnane Remmal. For their fragrances are nothing but chemical compounds: special molecules, from essential plant oils. The plants use them as a weapon. They use them to fight off bacteria and parasites. Adnane Remmal wanted to make this weapon his own. “In 1988, I met some surgeons who explained to me how they were often successful in difficult operations, but that many patients still died in hospitals from becoming infected with multi-resistant germs, against which antibiotics are no longer effective. On that day, I decided to dedicate my entire research career to this topic. I wanted to fight multi-resistant bacteria, and find a solution to this problem.” Adnane Remmal finds the opportunity to do this at the University of Fez. Here, he devotes himself to meticulous basic research. Finally, he understands exactly how the substances from essential oils fight bacteria. However, the researcher also realizes that to defeat infections and germs in humans, he would have to use a large amount of such substances. But that is not possible: “The amount of essential oils we would need to give patients is rather high, and there is a big risk of side effects. So we decided that if we couldn’t use essential oils on their own, we would mix them together with antibiotics – and try to create a synergy effect.” Remmal searches for a substance that can make antibiotics extra-powerful. And he finds it: Carvacrol. Contained, for example, in marjoram, thyme and oregano. Together with antibiotics, this substance becomes a medical weapon that can kill resistant bacteria. “An antibiotic is like a key that unlocks a door in the bacterium and fights it that way. But if the bacterium mutates and the key no longer fits, then the bacterium is invulnerable, and resistant. We have shown that the essential oils don’t function like a key, but more like a sledgehammer that, basically, smashes the whole door down.” Adnane Remmal patents his discovery. In the meantime, he is also making use of a substance found in eucalyptus trees. Together with a Moroccan pharmaceutical company, he wants to bring the “antibiotics booster” with its eucalyptus essence, onto the market. According to the researcher, it will be the first drug ever developed in Morocco. But Adnane Remmal already has new ideas. He now wants to prevent resistant bacteria from forming in the first place. Antibiotics have long been used in agricultural livestock farming and to accelerate the growth of the animals. This excessive use has caused many resistant bacteria to develop. But on this farm, things are different now… Every evening the cattle here are given small pellets – filled with essential oils. Antibiotics are no longer necessary. “The livestock owner thus achieves the same growth effect as with antibiotics. At the same time, the animals are healthier and perform better. We were surprised that consumers are saying that the meat tastes better, is more tender, and it even smells better!” Meanwhile, Adnane Remmal has little time for lab research. More and more farmers want to try out his new medication. It’s 30 percent cheaper than antibiotics and word has spread about its positive effect on meat. The fact that no more resistant bacteria are being produced has almost become a side issue now. For Adnane Remmal, however, it remains crucial. After all, he has devoted his life to fighting this global threat.

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