The Understory

Medicine derived from a frog

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Toxics produced by poison arrow frogs have applications for human health. In 1974 John Daly of the National Institute of Health collected samples of skin secretions from Epipedobates tricolor, an orange, red, and white frog from Southwestern Ecuador. Studies found that small amounts of the dendrobatid toxin administered to mice worked as an nonaddictive painkiller that blocked pain 200 times more effectively than morphine. Daly named the new compound epidatidine in honor of the frog. Unfortunately further testing found epidatidine to be too toxic for use in humans. In order to produce a potent, but less toxic version of the molecule a larger sample of epidatidine would be required. Mark Plotkin describes Daly's return expedition to Ecuador in Medicine Quest [2000]:

By 1990 technological breakthroughs allowed Daly to unfreeze his single epidatidine sample and submit it for analysis. Within two years the molecule structure [similar to nicotine] was unmasked and scientists were able to synthesize epidatidine for experimentation. Abbott Laboratories began working with epidatidine in an effort to develop similar compounds with applications for treating pain in humans. Abbott Labs eventually created ABT-594, a non-toxic, nonaddictive painkiller potentially effective for treating several types of pain. Unlike an opiate, ABT-594 "promotes alertness instead of sleepiness and has no side effects on respiration or digestion" [Wilson 2002].

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References and other resources: - ABT-594 structure, characteristics. Picture of Epipedobates tricolor.
Bannon, A.W. Journal of Science. 1998, Jan, 279, 77-81.
Holladay, Mar W. J.Med Chem. 1998, Feb, 41, 407-417.
Plotkin, M.J. Medicine Quest. 2000. New York: Viking Penguin. 3-6.
Wilson, E.O. The Future of Life. 2002. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 121-122.

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