For many years, Doctors have known that most people who die from cancer, don’t die from the original tumor, but from the cancer's metastases – the new sites around the body where the tumor seeds. All cancers start from a tiny cluster of cells, but once they reach a critical size, usually only a few millimetres in diameter, they cannot grow any bigger unless they create their own blood supply: this is called angiogenesis. The theory then goes that if you can block angiogenesis, then you turn cancer from a killer, into a manageable, chronic disease, like many other chronic diseases such as psoriasis, arthritis and so on. There are already a few drugs available that have been developed to do this, but a novel approach by researchers at Queens University Belfast, has literally hitched a ride on the frogs back!! They discovered a protein secreted by the Waxy Monkey Frog that stops blood vessels from growing, and hope that their discovery will further enhance the management of metastatic cancers.
But they didn’t just stop with the Waxy Monkey Frog: they went one step (hop?) further and discovered that a protein from the Giant Fire-bellied Toad, which does the complete opposite and actually stimulates blood vessel growth. This, they hope, would be of great value in helping people with Diabetic ulcers, wound healing and with damage caused by strokes.
The lead researcher, Professor Chris Shaw and his team are to receive one of Europe’s most prestigious awards for Healthcare and Business next week for their discoveries. It just goes to show that the answers are out there: we just have to keep looking!
PS: no frogs were harmed in these experiments and they were all released fit and well back into their environments!
PPS: Got any good frog stories?