There is a constant clamor for the “cure for cancer” and other medical miracles. Although the cancer research industry falls back on plants and synthetic chemistry to find cures, some in the science world believe the very cures we seek may be found within frogs, toads, newts and salamanders.
Hans Spemann, professor of zoology at the University of Freiburg-im-Breisgau, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1935 for discovering that the fate of embryonic cells is not predetermined. This discovery was made using the embryos of newts. Without this research, techniques like stem cell transplant would not exist. Stem cell transplants are currently used to treat blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
Researchers have found some amphibians are capable of secreting chemicals that potentially have both antimicrobial and anticancer properties. In a world where antibiotic resistant superbugs take 70,000 lives per year, we need to pursue every new antimicrobial possibility.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer worldwide, taking 880,000 lives in 2018. This cancer can develop chemoresistance due to a high level of tumor heterogeneity, highlighting a need for novel treatments. Research on toad venom compounds have shown this venom is able to prevent the growth of two different types of colorectal cancer.
The research on the medicinal benefits of amphibians is simultaneously understudied and underappreciated. These animals represent a system that could provide a wide array of treatment options for the complex medical problems we face today, but the species is struggling for survival.
In the past 50 years, there have been more than 500 amphibian species threatened by fungal diseases and human activity. Amphibians such as frogs, newts and salamanders all have permeable skin; this means that amphibians are extremely sensitive to toxins, pollutants and disease. This has resulted in at least 90 extinctions, and will likely lead to more if significant regulatory and conservation efforts are not made.
If we do not change the way we conduct amphibian conservation and habitat protection our beloved amphibians will become extinct. If you want to help protect these creatures, support or join the organizations below.
Endangered Species International
National Wildlife Federation
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