A chemical in the mucus of the South Indian frog (Hydrophylax bahuvistara) could be used to fight influenza, a new study published in the journal Immunity reports.
The species is unique because their slime contains a compound known as ‘urumin,’ which kills both bacteria and viruses. Researchers from the Emory University School of Medicine studied the species because, while frogs are susceptible to many diseases, they cannot catch the flu. This trait led the team to believe that the amphibians produced certain peptides that help fight against viruses.
“Peptides derived from the skin of frogs have antibacterial activity. We hypothesized some peptides might also have antiviral activity and hence we tested them against flu viruses,” study co-author Joshy Jacob, a researcher at Emory University, told Gizmodo. “The frogs secrete this peptide almost certainly to combat some pathogen in [their] niche. The flu virus most likely shares a common motif with whatever the peptide is targeted to.”
Researchers tested the compound on mice and found that a synthesized version of the molecule could kill many different influenza viruses, including the H1 pandemic strains that pop up each year. This is because the peptide attaches itself to hemagglutinin — the major protein on the surface of the influenza virus — and dismantles the disease.
However, urumin does not last very long inside of the body. That means scientists need to create a more stable version before the drug can be widely produced or used in human trials. Even so, the team is hopeful that their discovery could one day lead to new anti-viral drugs.
The research also sheds light on how animals, especially amphibians, could aid future medicine. Almost all species create antimicrobial defense peptides, and this could be the first step towards uncovering how such molecules are used to combat diseases.
“Different frogs make different peptides, depending on where their habitat is. You and I make host defense peptides ourselves,” added Jacob, in a statement. “It’s a natural innate immune mediator that all living organisms maintain. We just happened to find one that the frog makes that just happens to be effective against the H1 influenza type.”