Forget Prince Charming – could frog vaccine cure the Flu?

We all know the fairy tale. Kiss a frog and Prince Charming will appear. Well, what about frogs curing the flu instead? The idea that frogs’ skin can have medicinal or healing properties is certainly not a new one.  Native South Americans have used frog secretions to help heal wounds for many years.   In 2011 an international research program found that these secretions could be beneficial in the fight against cancer, diabetes, and strokes. Prince Charming became Doctor Charming.

A new study has found that skin secretions produced by the South Indian Frog (hydrophylax bahuvistara)  can kill the flu virus.  These secretions contain a compound, known as a peptide, which attacks the flu virus but leaves healthy tissue unaffected.  The peptide has been named “urumin” , after a flexible whip-like blade called an “urumi” used in martial arts in the Kerala, a region in South India where the frog is found.  It is this ‘peptide’ that forms the key ingredient to a new vaccine.

Not Just the Common Cold, Flu explained

There are three different types of Influenza, commonly known as “the flu”, types A,B and C.  Influenza A  is the most common and causes the severest outbreaks, including the Swine Flu outbreak in  2009.  Symptoms include severe tiredness, aching joints, headaches, fever, sore throat and a cough.  Although for many people, recovery from the flu takes about a week or so of rest, there can be serious complications and in some cases can even result in death. These at-risk groups include the elderly,  the very young, pregnant women and those who are immunocompromised, for example, people with HIV or people receiving chemotherapy.

But we already have vaccines? 

Yes, we do, but the problem is that viruses mutate, leaving us only partially protected. We therefore constantly need new vaccines, or antivirals (drugs which kill viruses or stop them growing). However,  like bacteria, these viruses become resistant drugs and new ones are needed all the time. Click here to learn more about vaccines

The research explained – How the Frog is our Friend

The investigating team used a small shock to stimulate the frog to produce extra secretions. The frog was then set free to hop and croak at will. Synthetic versions of peptides identified were then examined under an extremely powerful microscope (an electron microscope). It was found that peptides can bind to a particular part of the virus which is needed to enter into human cells. When urumin binds to the virus, it is destroyed.  Human cells were not damaged in this process. Mice which were infected with influenza A virus were protected by a vaccination made with the urumin.

It is hoped that a new antiviral drug could be developed using urumin which would help protect against the flu, but there is still a long way to go. Research continues, and who knows what “other cures” could be found hidden in nature?

To learn more about the flu, vaccines and antiviral drugs click here

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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.

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About hannaharnstein (13 Articles)
I am a psychiatry trainee working in the North East, but currently on maternity leave. Outside of medicine, other than writing I enjoy all things geek, baking and reading.

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