Scientists at Queen's University Belfast have discovered proteins in frog skins which could be used to treat cancer, diabetes, stroke and transplant patients by regulating the growth of blood vessels.
The award-winning research, led by Professor Chris Shaw at Queen's School of Pharmacy, has identified two proteins, or 'peptides', which can be used in a controlled and targeted way to regulate 'angiogenesis' – the process by which blood vessels grow in the body. The discovery holds the potential to develop new treatments for more than seventy major diseases and conditions that affect more than one billion people worldwide.
The proteins are found in secretions on the skins of the Waxy Monkey Frog and the Giant Firebellied Toad. Scientists capture the frogs and gently extract the secretions, before releasing them back in to the wild. The frogs are not harmed in any way during this process.
Professor Shaw said: "The proteins that we have discovered have the ability to either stimulate or inhibit the growth of blood vessels. By 'switching off' angiogenesis and inhibiting blood vessel growth, a protein from the Waxy Monkey Frog has the potential to kill cancer tumours. 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. This has the potential to transform cancer from a terminal illness into a chronic condition.
"On the other hand, a protein from the Giant Firebellied Toad has 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."
Explaining how his research team looks to the natural world to solve problems where other methods of drug discovery have failed, Professor Shaw said: "Because of its huge potential, angiogenesis has been a prime target for drugs development research over the past forty years. But despite an investment of around $4-5 billion by scientists and drugs companies around the world, they 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."
The Queen's researchers will receive the Commendation in the Cardiovasular Innovation Award at the Medical Futures Innovation Awards in London this evening (Monday 6 June). The Awards are one of Europe's most prestigious healthcare and business awards, rewarding innovative ideas from front line clinicians, scientists and entrepreneurs. Professor Shaw's team are the only entry from Northern Ireland to be successful at this year's awards.
Congratulating Professor Shaw and his colleagues, Professor Brian Walker and Dr Tianbao Chen, on their commendation award, Queen's Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Gregson said: "This award is not only an honour for Professor Shaw and his team, it is recognition of the world-class research taking place at Queen's School of Pharmacy, and the life-changing potential of the University's work in drug discovery."
For more information on the Medical Futures Innovation Awards 2011 visit www.medicalfutures.co.uk
Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen's University Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 5320 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
1. Professor Chris Shaw is available for interview. He is in London on Monday 6 June to attend to Medical Futures Innovation Awards. Interview bids on Monday should be directed to the Medical Futures media team: Chris Fowler: +44(0) 208 946 8666 (office); +44(0) 771 917 2225 (mobile); email@example.com or Ann Wright: +44 (0) 208 332 6200 (office); +44(0) 7769 651942 (mobile); firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Professor Shaw will return to Belfast on the evening of Tuesday 7 June, after which interview bids should be directed to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen's University Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 5320 email: email@example.com
3. A photo of Professor Shaw, and a photo of the Waxy Monkey Frog, is available on request from Anne-Marie Clarke (contact details above).
4. The Giant Firebellied Toad is native of China and Veitnam. The Waxy Monkey Frog is native of South America. The frog secretions are gathered during research trips to China and South America. The researchers capture the frogs and extract the secretions, before releasing them back in to the wild. The frogs are not harmed in any way during this process.
5. Medical Futures Innovation Awards - Professor Shaw's team beat thousands of entries to pitch their research to a judging panel of some of the world's most distinguished and respected doctors, academics and commercial experts. The Medical Futures Awards winners were selected following a peer-reviewed judging process based on three criteria – the novelty of the research, its viability and the commercial opportunities associated with it.
6. The judging panel said: "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. 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. We very much encourage the work to move to the next level."
7. Additional quote - Medical Futures' founder Dr Andy Goldberg OBE, consultant surgeon at London's Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust and a senior academic for University College London said: "The winners were chosen by a panel of distinguished experts from the thousands of entries received and they deserve every success for their creativity, commercial viability, and most importantly potential impact on patients."I continue to be excited by the inspiration and sheer drive and determination shown by all of our entrants, many of whom are working with patients day to day so they see first-hand what is needed – sometimes it's the simplest ideas that are the real breakthroughs."
8. The Medical Futures Awards are run on a not-for-profit basis to help turn ideas into tangible real-world solutions to improve clinical outcomes for patients and provide cost-saving benefits. The Awards started in 2001 and since then, past winners have secured over £100m in funding, and most importantly many have gone onto become successful services or products that are now changing peoples' lives. By entering the awards, front line clinicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs have the chance to pitch their ideas and businesses to a world-class panel of experts whose advice, guidance and peer-review brings unparalleled validation.
9. From thousands of entries, the top 100 teams were invited to pitch to Dragon's Den style judging panels of some of the world's most distinguished and respected doctors, scientists and commercial experts, including the likes of Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of the NHS and Professor Martin Rothman, Vice President of Medical Affairs for Medtronic Inc. The Medical Futures judging is a completely transparent process of peer review in which the winners are chosen. More information at www.medicalfutures.co.uk
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