Frog Ooze Flu Stopper

By CodingStrategies on January 12th, 2018

In the tale “The Frog Prince,” a young member of the royal family is rude to a disguised witch asking for water. She curses him by turning him into a frog, and he will remain in this form until the spell is broken. There are several versions of the story, and the Brothers Grimm tell of a beautiful young princess playing with a golden ball that accidentally falls into a well. The enchanted frog offers to retrieve the ball, but requires that the princess take him home with her, feed him from her plate and allow him to sleep in her room. Depending on which account you read, the princess fulfills her promises, but then cuts off the frog’s head, throws him against a wall, lets him sleep on her pillow for three nights or kisses him. Regardless, the curse is broken, the frog reverts back to his princely state, marries the princess and they live happily ever after.

Kissing a frog might not get you the love of your life, but it will put you in close contact with frog mucus. This slimy coating keeps the amphibian’s skin moist and protected. But maybe a little frog goo from the right species isn’t such a bad thing, since it could harbor antimicrobial powers.

The H1 subtype of influenza is a strain of the type A influenza virus that can cause serious illness and result in pandemics (ICD-10-CM code J09.X2). Influenza is a viral respiratory infection, and types A (also called bird flu, since it may be hosted by wild fowl) and B (resulting in a less severe reaction, code J10.1) cause the annual influenza epidemics that have up to 20 percent of the population proclaiming their misery. The virus is very contagious and can cause severe illness especially in patients who are very young or old, or also have another serious medical condition. The flu is linked to between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths every year, and 200,000 annual hospitalizations in the United States.

The severity of symptoms can vary but usually involves respiratory and constitutional; for example, runny nose, sore throat, aching muscles, headache, cough, nasal congestion, malaise, fever, watery eyes, chills, fatigue, loss of appetite, weakness and general discomfort. [Coding Guidelines Sections 1.B.5 and 1.C.18.b: Symptoms related to the illness are not coded separately if the patient has been diagnosed with influenza.]

The slime of a colorful fungoid frog called Hydrophylax bahuvistara, found in the southern Indian province of Kerala, contains small molecules that can destroy the H1 variety of flu virus. It has been recognized for some time that a frog’s skin secretes peptides that defend it against bacteria.  A peptide is a short chain of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The researchers called this peptide "urumin," after the urumi, a deadly, flexible, whip-like sword that originated in southern India centuries ago. The compound isn't very stable in the human body, however, so scientists will need to develop a synthetic version that lasts longer.

To make the discovery, researchers first gave frogs a mild electrical shock to encourage extra slime production. Then they collected the resulting secretion and screened it for active compounds, locating 32 peptides. The researchers found that four of these substances had some success at killing the virus, but only one of those four wasn't toxic to human cells. (Seriously, don’t kiss frogs or toads, unless you made a supernatural bargain with a disguised witch.)

The scientists then chemically synthesized their own versions in the lab and tested those products on strains of the human flu virus. Delivered intranasally, urumin protected unvaccinated mice against a lethal dose of some flu viruses. Urumin was specific for H1 strains of flu, such as the 2009 pandemic strain, and was not effective against other current strains such as H3N2.

But, if frogs can't actually get the flu, why do they make a compound that kills strains of the virus? It's likely that urumin also kills other pathogens that could infect the frog. Amphibians, especially certain groups of frogs, produce and store large amounts of antimicrobial peptides in specialized granular glands in the skin. When the skin is injured or the frog is alarmed, they release large amounts of the peptides to protect the skin.

Anti-flu peptides could become handy when vaccines are unavailable, in the case of a new pandemic strain, or when circulating strains become resistant to current drugs. In addition, it is entirely possible that other potentially medicinal compounds are out there, just sitting on another frog's skin. According to Kermit the Frog, “Every journey begins with a single hop.”