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Cleopatra secret ready for market

Lucknow, Oct. 2: Cleopatra’s secret is finally out — ready to be bottled and marketed for those who wish to acquire the Egyptian queen’s legendary beauty.

After three years of research, a group of Lucknow University scientists has recently managed to patent the process isolating the sugar chain constituents known as oligosaccharides in donkey’s milk that Cleopatra used to enhance her beauty. Oligosaccharides are carbohydrates whose molecules are composed of a few monosaccharide units.

Their application has been sanctioned by the Indian Patents office and was published in the Gazette of India on April 19 this year. “We are set to hit the market soon,” says Ainakshi Khare, head of the university’s chemistry department.

The research to develop immunostimulants from donkey’s milk was inspired by the legend surrounding the queen’s famous beauty baths, Khare admits. “Donkey’s milk was known as Cleopatra’s secret to eternal beauty. Poppea, wife of the Roman emperor Nero, would only bathe in donkey’s milk. She travelled with 500 nursing donkeys so she could take milk baths to keep her skin smooth and supple.”

“We soon found that they were not off the mark in their queer toilet preferences,” says Desh Deepak, reader in the chemistry department and principal investigator of the project sponsored by the department of science and technology.

During their research, the university scientists found that the oligosaccharides in donkey’s milk have anti-aging properties which can be used in combating wrinkles.

The oligosaccharides are also anti-cancer agents. “With its high immuno-stimulant activity, it can also be used as a potent drug for diseases affecting the immune system, including tuberculosis and even AIDS. While this compound may not be able to eliminate the AIDS virus, it can improve body resistance,” Deepak says.

Initially, such claims generated scepticism and even ridicule among scientists, but the team persisted. After successful animal trials, it conducted extensive clinical trials for over a year before formally applying for patenting the process.

Of all domestic animals, donkey’s milk is the closest to human milk in its composition of sugars and proteins, Deepak says. “It’s rich in vitamins A, B, C, D and E and minerals. The soap (containing this milk) is good for all types of skin, especially skin that’s dry and fragile,” he adds.

Indians knew the medicinal qualities of donkey milk much before the knowledge reached ancient Egypt and Rome, says Deepak, quoting the Charak Samhita, Sushrut Samhita and Dravya Gunadarsha extensively.

“Even today, in the Himalayan hills and especially the Terai belt, donkey milk is being… used for treating rickets or as a balm,” he points out.

Deepak waxes eloquent about the amazing qualities of donkey’s milk, which can offer a cure for chest and liver diseases as well as blood and bladder disorder. “It is also a formidable aphrodisiac which can give Viagra a run for its money.”

The Lucknow scientists’ findings have been published in Biochemical et Biophysica Acta and also presented in various international conferences, including the recent symposium on immunopharmacology held in Delhi.

They are now awaiting a nod for a project submitted to the Technopreneur Promotion Programme of the Department of Science and Technology for financial help to set up a donkey farm to make it easier to obtain the milk.

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