Foam secreted by a rare tropical frog could play a role in treating burns victims and patients who have had surgery to remove tumours.
The mud puddle frog (Physalaemus pustulosus), which lives in Trinidad, produces a protective foam that stops its frogspawn drying out and kills bacteria living in the dirty water where it lays its eggs.
Researchers at Glasgow University believe it can be used to treat people with serious burns or help stimulate the regrowth of healthy tissue after tumours have been removed.
In cases where a large area of skin is lost through burns, dehydration can lead to death. As a result, preventing wounds from drying out could save lives as well as accelerate healing.
The foam was discovered by Professor Malcolm Kennedy while supervising zoology students on a field trip.
He mentioned it to colleagues when he returned. They contacted officials in Trinidad and gathered samples from nests and sent them back to the university.
Scientists studied the foam and the group, led by Professor Alan Cooper of Glasgow University, published its findings in the Biophysical Journal.
They found that the foam prevents infection and is very light and flexible, leading to hopes that a version manufactured in a lab could be a life-saving treatment.
Prof Cooper said: “We wanted to know how the foam works. It has antibacterial properties, prevents eggs drying out and is extremely light.
“We identified the proteins responsible for some of its properties and know we can produce them in the lab. That could lead to commercial applications.
“One can imagine this being carried in a handy aerosol pack within a first aid kit, as it is the sort of thing that could be used as a temporary dressing for wounds, and burns in particular.
“A major problem with these injuries is infection and loss of moisture, and this material would satisfy both of those conditions.”
He added: “One can also imagine these proteins being used as the scaffolding for living cells to grow on in three dimensions. If a tumour was removed and left a cavity, this product could be squirted into the surgical cavity and then act as a substrate to facilitate that tissue regeneration.”