Healthy living

Frog skin could be used to treat cancer

frogs Nature leads the way

Scientists have discovered compounds in frog skin which could potentially lead to treatments for more than 70 diseases, including cancer.

Researchers at Queen’s University in Belfast identified two small proteins, which help to regulate the way blood vessels grow in the body, known as angiogenesis.

They say the award-winning discovery may lead to the development on new treatments for major health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, stroke and transplant patients by regulating the growth of blood vessels.

The scientists found the proteins in secretions on the skins of the Waxy Monkey Frog and the Giant Firebellied Toad. The frogs and toads are released unharmed into the wild once the secretions have been extracted.

The protein from the Giant Firebellied Toad was been found to "switch on" angiogenesis and stimulate blood vessel growth.

"This has the potential to treat an array of diseases and conditions that require blood vessels to repair quickly, such as wound healing, organ transplants, diabetic ulcers, and damage caused by strokes or heart conditions, ” said Professor Chris Shaw at Queen's School of Pharmacy, who led the research.

Similarly, another protein from the Waxy Monkey Toad was found to "switch off" angiogenesis, and inhibit the growth of blood cells.

"Most cancer tumours can only grow to a certain size before they need blood vessels to grow into the tumour to supply it with vital oxygen and nutrients," Professor Shaw said.

"Stopping the blood vessels from growing will make the tumour less likely to spread and may eventually kill it.

"This has the potential to transform cancer from a terminal illness into a chronic condition."

The team of scientists received a commendation at the Medical Futures Innovation Awards, held in London.

Despite drug companies investing around $4-5 billion worldwide, they have yet to develop a drug that can effectively target, control and regulate the growth of blood vessels, Professor Shaw said.

“The aim of our work at Queen’s is to unlock the potential of the natural world – in this case the secretions found on frog and toad skins - to alleviate human suffering. We are absolutely convinced that the natural world holds the solutions to many of our problems, we just need to pose the right questions to find them.

“It would be a great shame to have something in nature that is potentially the wonder drug to treat cancer and not aim to do everything in our power to make it work.”

This article was published on Thu 9 June 2011

Image © Queen's University, Belfast

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