Frog Toxins For Medicine

As bacterial infections become more resistant to antibiotics, the toxins on the skin of frogs presents huge opportunity for new drug discovery.

As human diseases become alarmingly antibiotic resistant, identification of new pharmaceuticals is critical. The cane toad and other members of the Bufonidae family produce substances widely used in traditional folk medicine, but endangered family members, like Panama’s golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, may disappear before revealing their secrets. Smithsonian scientists and colleagues at the University of Panama; Panama’s government research center, INDICASAT AIP; Vanderbilt University in Tennessee; and Acharya Nagarjuna University in Guntur, India, created a compendium of the known chemicals produced by this amphibian family in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology highlighting their largely unexplored potential for new drug discovery.

“We’re slowly learning to breed several members of this amphibian family decimated by the chytrid fungal disease,” said Roberto Ibáñez, a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and in-country director of the Panama Amphibian Conservation and Rescue project. “That’s buying us time to study the chemicals they produce, but it’s likely that animals in their natural habitats produce an even wider range of compounds.”

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