Imperial College London

Imperial cancer researcher awarded Morocco's top honour


Imperial cancer researcher awarded Morocco's top honour.

Wearing traditional Moroccan dress, Dr Amin Hajitou receives the Royal Medal of Morocco, presented by His Royal Highness King Mohammed VI

An Imperial medical researcher has been awarded Morocco's highest honour for his research into a gene-based treatment for cancer.

Please note that the commentary on the following video is in Arabic.

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Dr Amin Hajitou, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, has been awarded a Royal Medal of Morocco and named an Officer of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite (equivalent to an OBE in the UK) for his work in developing new treatments for cancer. 

Presented by His Royal Highness King Mohammed VI, who chooses recipients personally, the Royal Medal is the country’s highest and most coveted official honour.

The award was given as recognition for the work that Dr Hajitou and his team are doing to develop targeted therapies for cancer, using bacteriophages – small viruses that can seek out and destroy cancerous cells within the body. 

Common treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy are often inefficient – and in some cases ineffective - with only small amounts (in some cases just 5–10%) of the total dose reaching the tumour. These treatments also cause well-known side effects such as hair loss and a weakened immune system.

Bacteriophages could provide a much more targeted approach to the treatment of cancer. Once injected into the bloodstream, they are programmed to exclusively seek out tumour cells. When they reach their goal, they express therapeutic genes that destroy the tumours, without harming the healthy tissues. The hope is that this approach could provide a more effective alternative to some current treatments.

Dr Hajitou said: “Using targeted gene therapy to treat cancer is work that could make a real difference to the way cancer is treated and potentially save many lives. Personally, I am honoured that this has been recognized by the King of Morocco.”

In particular the team are focusing on glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive type of brain tumour in adults, which is currently incurable. 

One of the main challenges to successfully treating brain tumours is enabling therapies to cross the blood/brain barrier. Dr Hajitou’s research has shown that bacteriophages can pass between the bloodstream and the brain to target the cancer. The team have had encouraging results in mice and aim to commence human trials within the next few years. 

The King of Morocco discussed Dr Hajitou’s research during the award ceremony. Dr Hajitou said: “The King was keen to learn of recent developments, in particular our aim to conduct clinical trials. The Moroccan royal family is very interested in promoting cancer research and treatments.

“My career has seen me study across the world, something only made possible by the free education I received in Morocco,” Dr Hajitou added. 

”I also hope that this award will encourage other young people in Morocco who are studying science.”


Laura Gallagher

Laura Gallagher
Communications Division

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