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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 23:57 GMT
Frog spawn provides cancer clue
Pipid frogs
Scientists studied the eggs of pipid frogs
Frog spawn may have provided researchers with a vital clue in the fight against cancer.

A team from the Cancer Research Campaign in Scotland has used the eggs of an African frog to shed new light on the mechanism that normally prevents cancer from developing.

Geminin could be an important template for a radically new approach to controlling cancer

Professor Gordon McVie, Cancer Research Campaign
The eggs of the pipid frog are so big that they are perfect for finding out what happens inside cells.

The scientists, based at Dundee University, hope their discovery will lead to new life-saving treatments for cancer.

Lead researcher Dr Julian Blow said: "Cancer happens when cells divide out of control.

"Thanks to our remarkable frog eggs, we've now found a vital switch that normally stops this from happening, but which may go wrong when cancer develops.

"We're really excited by the discovery, because if we could prove that the switch goes wrong in cancer, and find out how this happens, it might lead to new drugs to protect our cells from the disease."

Crucial switch

The researchers think the switch controls the crucial process of copying genes, which has to happen whenever a cell divides in two, so that both new cells have the full number of genes.

Gene copying is turned on and off by a molecule called geminin. When geminin is present inside cells, the process is switched off.

But removing the molecule switches gene copying back on and gives cells the all-clear to divide. Losing geminin altogether could be a crucial stage in the development of cancer, since it would leave the way open to uncontrolled cell growth.

So if doctors could design drugs that worked like geminin to prevent cell division, they could improve the prospects of cancer patients.

Professor Gordon McVie, CRC Director General, said: "Dr Blow's work is important because it gives us vital information about the kinds of changes that go on inside our cells when cancer develops.

"Geminin could be an important template for a radically new approach to controlling cancer."

The research is published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

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