Frog Mucus Might Help Cure Flu Viruses

South Indian frog Hydrophylax bahuvistara.    
   Image by Sanil George and Jessica Shartouny

South Indian frog Hydrophylax bahuvistara. Image by Sanil George and Jessica Shartouny

Hydrophylax bahuvistara, a frog from the South Indian peninsula has an odd quirk - it doesn't get viral infections.

Frog slime contains a molecule with the power to kill flu viruses, scientists have found out.

A new study suggests that mucus from the skin of certain frogs can be harnessed to obliterate flu viruses.

This peptide is far from becoming an anti-flu drug, but this is the first evidence of its flu-killing ability. The researchers named the newly identified peptide "urumin", after the urumi, a sword with a flexible blade that snaps and bends like a whip, which comes from the same Indian province, Kerala, as the frog.

It was known that frogs' skin can secrete peptides that protect against bacteria.

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Such drugs could prove important when vaccines aren't available to deal with new strains of pandemic flu, or when known flu strains develop resistance to current medications, said study senior author Joshy Jacob.

Researchers note that humans also produce peptides to form defenses against external viruses, as it is a system that's innate to all living organisms. But researchers plan on testing more of the frog-derived peptides to try to find others that work against other types of influenza virus.

Developing antimicrobial peptides into effective drugs has been a challenge in the past, partly because enzymes in the body can break them down.

The researchers aren't quite sure why urumin only targets H1 viruses, but Jacob said that H1 viruses might be anatomically similar to an amphibian pathogen that the frog mucus is meant to destroy.

Hydrophylax bahuvistaraa frog superimposed on a green background with the shapes of flu viruses in lighter green. It does not affect other flu strains, such as the H3N2 flu and influenza B viruses that also circulate.

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"I was nearly knocked off my chair", Jacob says. In the beginning, I thought that when you do drug discovery, you have to go through thousands of drug candidates, even a million, before you get one or two hits.

"In this paper we screened 32 peptides, and the surprise was that four out of 32 had activity against the virus", Jacob said.

Urumin is welcome news for doctors and researchers seeking alternative methods to combat antibiotic-resistant viruses. Electron microscope images of the virus after exposure to urumin reveal a virus that has been completely dismantled.

Dr Jacob's team is now looking at ways to stabilise anti-viral peptides such as urumin. What urumin does is bind itself to hemagglutinin, causing a genetic destabilization in the virus because it needs hemagglutinin to infect other cells. He and his colleagues administered the peptide to mice and then exposed them to H1 viruses.

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