Jan 30, 2009

Science - Tadpoles could prevent skin cancer

LONDON: Tadpoles could hold the key to developing skin cancer drugs, according to scientists.

A team at the University of East Anglia has identified a compound which blocks the movement of the pigment cells that give the tadpoles their distinctive markings.

It is the uncontrolled movement and growth of pigment cells that causes skin cancer in both humans and frogs.

And by blocking their migration, the development and spread of cancerous tumours can potentially be prevented, the scientists have claimed.

Dr Grant Wheeler, who led the team, was quoted by the British media as saying: "This is an exciting advance with implications in the fight against cancer.

"The next step is to test the compound in other species and, in the longer term, embark on the development of new drugs to fight skin cancer in humans."

The scientists have based their findings on years of work on tadpoles in the university laboratory- the results of which are published in the latest edition of the Cell Press journal 'Chemistry and Biology'.

In fact, the team, working in partnership with the John Innes Centre (JIC) and Pfizer, claims that South African clawed frog tadpoles- Latin name Xenopus Laevis-have the same organs, molecules and physiology as humans.

The close comparison means the same mechanisms are involved in causing cancer in both Xenopus tadpoles and humans. Until the 1960s, Xenopus Laevis frogs were used as the main human pregnancy test.

Ed Yong of Cancer Research UK welcomed the findings. But he said: "There is still a lot of work to do before these interesting but preliminary results can be used to benefit people affected by cancer. It shows that studying animals like tadpoles could lead to potential cancer drugs."

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