Science Briefs: New disease threatens global frog population

New disease threatens global frog population

Tadpoles are contracting a new, highly infectious disease that may be threatening frog populations worldwide, British scientists have found.

A parasitic disease caused by single-celled microbes known as "protists" was found in the livers of tadpole samples taken from six countries across three continents, they said in a study published in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Journal. The disease, found in both tropical and temperate sites, is a distant relative of oyster parasites.

"Global frog populations are suffering serious declines and infectious disease has been shown to be a significant factor," said Professor Thomas Richards of Exeter University, who co-led the study. "We now need to figure out if this novel microbe... could be contributing to the frog population declines."

Amphibians are among the most threatened of all animal groups. In 2008, 32 per cent of frog species were categorised as threatened or extinct and 42 per cent were listed as in decline. Some scientists say such falling populations suggest a sixth "mass extinction event", with extinctions happening so fast they rival the dinosaurs' decline and death in just 250 years.

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Tests of 'orphan drug' to treat aggressive cancer

A drug developed by Singapore-based bio-tech firm Aslan Pharmaceuticals (Aslan) has been granted orphan-drug designation by the United States Food and Drug Administration to treat cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and very aggressive form of

bile-duct cancer. This means the drug, Aslan001, is recognised as a potential novel treatment for a rare disorder, and may get speedier approval.

Aslan001 is being tested in phase 2 studies in breast cancer and cholangiocarcinoma. Studies in gastric cancer are also being planned.

Cholangiocarcinoma occurs in around 3 per cent of gastrointestinal cancer and has no cure. Its incidence in Asia is over 10 times higher than in the West. Aslan's chief executive officer Carl Firth said: "The orphan-drug designation is an important step... With no approved targeted therapies for cholangiocarcinoma, the prognosis for patients in both Asia and the West is poor.

"In addition to our work in cholangiocarcinoma, we are progressing our portfolio of immunotherapies and targeted agents in other Asia-prevalent tumour types, including gastric cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma."

Compiled by Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2015, with the headline 'Science Briefs: New disease threatens global frog population'. Print Edition | Subscribe