The humble tadpole could provide the key to developing anti-skin cancer drugs, say researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
The scientists have identified a compound which, when introduced into Xenopus Laevis tadpoles, blocks the movement of the pigment cells that give the tadpoles their distinctive markings and which develop into the familiar greenish-brown of the adult frog.
It is the uncontrolled movement and growth of pigment cells (melanophore) in both tadpoles and humans that causes a particularly dangerous form of skin cancer.
By blocking the migration of these cells, the development and spread of cancerous tumours can potentially be prevented.
The study has been published in the Cell Press journal 'Chemistry and Biology'.
The study has identified for the first time an effective new man-made MMP (metalloproteinase) inhibitor, known as 'NSC 84093'.
"This is an exciting advance with implications in the fight against cancer," said lead author Dr Grant Wheeler of UEA's School of Biological Sciences.
"The next step is to test the compound in other species and, in the longer term, embark on the development of new drugs to fight skin cancer in humans," the expert added.
The species Xenopus Laevis (South African clawed frog) is more closely related to humans than one might expect. It only diverged from man 360 million years ago and has the same organs, molecules and physiology.