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Australia's Cane Toads May Soon Be Treating Cancer

Apr 02, 2015 02:16 AM EDT
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The cane toad (Rhinella marina) isn't exactly a beloved amphibian. While countless frogs continue to face the troubles of climate chnage, shrinking habitats, and rampant disease, the cane toad has become an invading force in Australia - a dog-drugging nuisance without any natural predators to keep it down. But toad-hating Aussies may have hope yet. The cane toad is set to become Chinese medicine's next big import, as it was recently revealed that its poison could have cancer-fighting properties.

That's at least according to researchers of Chinese Medicine at the University of Queensland, who recently revealed in a series of tests that concentrated cane toad poison adversely affects prostate cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells alone.

"The Australian cane toad is very similar to the Asiatic toad, whose venom has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years," Dr Harendra Parekh, a researcher with the university, explained in a recent release.

According to Parekh, a past PhD student, Jing Jing, who comes from a long line of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, was the first to reveal the cane toad's surprising property. She had apparently been investigating chan su, medicines made from Chinese toad poisons which are traditionally used to treat heart failure, sore throats, and various skin conditions.

Last year, as Parekh explained to ABC news, Jing determined that cane toad poison is a "selectively toxic agent," meaning that it affects some cells but not others. The exact extent to which it can treat cancer cells, however, remains to be seen, but university researchers hope to begin validation tests in animals soon.

Still, he said that Chinese medicinal practitioners are already clamoring for the poison because it is soluble but can retain toxicity - meaning that it can be diluted but still have the desire effect - which makes it safe for patients. The toads themselves are also healthy animals, coming from a region that is less infamous for pollution and air quality problems, as opposed to Chinese ecosystems.

"People are killing cane toads by the millions for free," Parekh added, "but it's potentially a very lucrative export market for Australia with the Chinese being extremely interested in naturally derived health products."

And if the invasive toads' overwhelming numbers are severely culled by this high demand, it's all the more reason to celebrate.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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