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Skin cancer drug discovered after tadpole experiment

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A drug discovered with the help of tadpoles could prevent the spread of the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The drug leflunomide is already used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

But after tests on tadpoles scientists have concluded it could be a powerful treatment for malignant melanoma.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia used tadpoles because of an evolutionary link between the pattern of dark spots on their skin and the way melanoma cancer cells spread around the body in humans.

They injected 3,000 compounds into frog embryos and discovered that leflunomide dramatically changed the way the pigment pattern developed on the tadpoles.

Subsequent lab tests on human melanoma cells confirmed the drug could also affected tumour growth.

Clinical trials on patients will start later this year in the United States.

Dr Grant Wheeler, who led the team, said leflunomide had already been shown to be safe in humans, so trials should be completed in as little as three years.

“It’s really good news,” he told Sky News.

“It can go into clinic really quickly. It’s also relatively cheap, so it won’t be a problem in that respect either. This is an exciting breakthrough for treating people in the future for melanoma.”

Tests have shown that leflunomide has an even more powerful effect on melanoma when used in combination with an experimental drug called PLX4720.

When used together the drugs almost completely blocked tumour growth.

Effective treatment for malignant melanoma is desperately needed. Around 10,000 patients a year are diagnosed with the disease and 2000 die.

Janet Pearce had a dodgy mole removed 12 years ago, but the cancer returned last year.

Chemotherapy is all doctors have left, but she has not given up hope.

“If you’re advised that there is this drug that will stop the spread of your melanoma, it must be incredible news. I know for me it’s probably not going to be on the market in time. But there again I’m trying to hold on and think it might be,” she said.

The research is published in the science journal Nature.
Source: SKy News

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