Northern Ireland

Queens University award for frog skin cancer research

waxy monkey frog
Image caption A protein from the waxy monkey frog can inhibit the growth of blood vessels

Scientists at Queen's University Belfast have won an award for work on frog and toad skins which could lead to treatments for over 70 major diseases.

The researchers received the commendation at the Medical Futures Innovation Awards in London on Monday.

The research, led by Professor Chris Shaw at Queen's School of Pharmacy, has identified two proteins which can regulate how blood vessels grow.

The team are the only entry from NI to win at this year's awards.

They discovered that a protein from the waxy monkey frog can inhibit the growth of blood vessels and could be used to kill cancer tumours.

Professor Shaw said that 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.

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

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

The team have also discovered that the giant firebellied toad produces a protein which can stimulate blood vessel growth and could help patients recover from injuries and operations much more quickly.

Serendipity

"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," Professor Shaw said.

According to the professor, scientists and drugs companies around the world, despite an investment of around $4-5bn, have yet to develop a drug that can effectively target, control and regulate the growth of blood vessels.

"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."

Commenting on the work of Professor Shaw and his colleagues, Professor Brian Walker and Dr Tianbao Chen, the judging panel said they wanted to encourage the researchers to take their work to "the next level".

"Many of the great discoveries have been through serendipity and Professor Shaw's idea is indeed very innovative and exciting in an area of much unmet need," the panel said

"It is important to realise that the innovation is at an early stage and much work needs to be done to turn this in to a clinical therapy."

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