Poison from cane toads has been shown to be effective in killing prostate cancer cells. In China medicine made from toad poison is called chan su and is used to treat heart failure, sore throats, skin conditions and other ailments.
“We have what we believe is a selectively toxic agent which can kill tumour cells but spare healthy cells,” said Dr Harendra Parekh from the University of Queensland.
During her studies PhD student Dr Jing Jing was able to show that the poison from cane toads was very effective at killing cancer cells, and in particular prostate cancer cells, Dr Parekh said.
While the drug has been used for a long time in Asia it can be dangerous in its raw form, and Dr Parekh and his team had been trying to make the drug more soluble.
“Once we determine that the toxicity has been sustained, even after increasing solubility, the next stage will involve packaging it in innovative drug delivery systems, sent to cancer tissue,” he said.
Dr Parekh said a student had discovered Australia’s toad to be similar to the Asiatic toad which has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years.The team at the Queensland university’s Pharmacy Australia Centre of Excellence has received a grant from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a Chinese research institute.
It is about bringing Chinese medicine into the 21st century so that it can be more accepted and more marketable in the west.
Dr Jing Jing comes from a long line of Chinese medical practitioners and said she could foresee a market for Australian cane toads.
In China the Asiatic toad is threatened by over demand and pollution making the animals harder to obtain.
Because of their relatively clean habitat, the researchers said Australia’s cane toads could also be seen as more desirable.
“If directly imported from Australia it will decrease the cost,” Dr Jing Jing said.
“Cane toad venom imported from Australia will have less problems on the agriculture, pesticide residues and industrial pollution problems.”.
The researchers hope to have the initial screenings and studies carried out on the venom within 12-18 months.
“It is about bringing Chinese medicine into the 21st century so that it can be more accepted and more marketable in the West,” Dr Parekh said.
Cane toads were deliberately introduced to Queensland in 1935 but multiplied quickly and became a pest.
They arrived in the Northern Territory in 1984, and in 2001 moved into Kakadu National Park where they have caused major environmental damage.
The toads are poisonous to many native animals and have also crossed into Western Australia and northern New South Wales.