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Diaspo #143 : Amine Hajitou, a Moroccan virologist and his crusade against cancer

University professor and head of department at the prestigious Imperial College London, Amine Hajitou is a virologist who had his name associated with a promising research against cancer. Currently, he is one of the experts consulted on the new coronavirus in the UK.

Moroccan virologist Amine Hajitou. / DR
Estimated read time: 3'

He is an internationally-renowned expert in scientific research related to viruses. Doctor Amine Hajitou was born in 1968 in the city of Zeghanghane, near Nador. His family settled down later in Sefrou and then in Fez where he attended primary and secondary school.

Today, he is a professor of therapeutics at the department of brain sciences at the prestigious Imperial College London. «I first attended the Faculty of Fez before leaving for France to study at the Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse. After that, I went to Belgium for a master's degree in biochemistry at the University of Liège, because I wanted to work in a laboratory and do research in biology», he told Yabiladi.

«I have always been fascinated by viruses. My student project in France was on the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), responsible for mononucleosis. In Belgium, I worked on retroviruses, like HIV.»

Amine Hajitou

Fighting cancers with biological viruses

It is also in Belgium where he worked on his PhD in biochemistry, doing research on a European virus project. In the process, he got interested in bacterial viruses and their use in therapeutics. «I used to take viruses, genetically modify them, and then integrate them into an animal cancer host cell. I did this for six years», he explained.

Amine Hajitou also published research and studies on virotherapy and its contribution to the treatment of breast cancer and was awarded for his work in 2001.

As a Professor at the University of Liège and a researcher at the time, he opted for postdoctoral training at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the largest research centers in the United States. «It was very competitive. The fact that someone was successful there could change a curriculum and a career», he said.

Within the center, the Moroccan expert worked on bacterial viruses, which «do not harm humans and [which] were offered to sick people before the discovery of antibiotics to fight bacterial infections». He thus started developing this technology which he used to treat cancers. «The first virus of this type that I developed is under clinical trial by a company which will end in late 2020 or early 2021. It has already been tested on domestic animals», he proudly announced.

In 2007, when he returned to Europe, he joined Imperial College London, and is currently a member of the team responsible for «advising the British government on the measures to be taken to fight the new coronavirus». 

The coronavirus, scientific research and barrier measures

In August 2015, the Moroccan was awarded a Wissam from King Mohammed VI. «It was a great honor, which came to me at a special time. Life is about ups and downs. So it was a boost, motivation and it brought my life a new momentum», he recalled. 

Amine Hajitou, whose name is associated with several researches on viruses, is now also a distinguished professor in Thailand. The scientist received a distinction from the Thai government after one of his students, from the same country, won the prize for the best thesis concerning a vaccine for a type of cancer affecting the gallbladder.

As the world is facing the new coronavirus pandemic, the expert hopes that «bacterial viruses arrive in clinical trials on humans to fight cancers», recalling their other applications, such as vaccines and leaving the door open to research on the coronavirus. 

«When a type of virus from the same family appeared in 2002 and was then eradicated, the scientific research, which meant to provide us with the answers we need today, stopped», he regretted.

He also welcomes Morocco's action since the start of this pandemic. «I thanked God because I feared that the same thing would happen as in the United Kingdom or Italy. The spread of the virus remains well-controlled in Morocco, compared to other countries», he said. «It is important to put in place measures to stem the spread. There are no drugs yet and finding a vaccine may take years. The solution for the moment remains scientific research as well as preventive measures», he insisted.

Article modified on : 2020/05/09 23h34

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