How little frogs can help find a cure to cancer and diabetes

January 6, 2011

By Hannah Yakobi.

Cancer will attack over 173,000 Canadians this year.

Currently, more than nine million of people across the country are also living with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

As these statistics show, cancer and diabetes are a big threat to the health of Canadians. But as one scientist finds, his groundbreaking research on small amphibians can potentially help save human lives.

Chris Dieni primarily looks at freeze-tolerant frogs. These amphibians might be completely unrelated to humans, but their tolerance of extreme temperatures can point to how a human body reacts to a disease.

“Imagine the traffic flowing in all directions in a big city like Toronto or Montréal,” says Dieni. “Suddenly, you want to direct it all in one direction – you want to re-route it. Metabolism is very similar; it involves various types of molecules, and the pathways in which they flow are very different. Going back to our example of traffic, we can look at the intersections in metabolism and see what the most likely place for regulating this traffic is going to be.”

In his research, Dieni and his team look at one particular enzyme, called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. They study how this enzyme is regulated in frogs that are kept in a cold temperature (control condition) versus frogs that are being frozen (experimental condition). Their main focus is to look at how the enzyme changes in a frozen frog, and how the frog survives. The enzyme uses a glucose-based molecule as its reactant. Funding for the project came from a variety of sources, including NSERC, OGSST and the Canadian Diabetes Association.

“So thinking of glucose, you may also immediately think of diabetes,” says Dieni. “How do we metabolize glucose, how does the enzyme affect glucose concentrations in cells or liver – these are just some of the questions that we need to consider.”

“We are freezing these frogs and then they become thawed, survive and go back to their regular lives. So if one organism can freeze and still be alive, then how can this be translated to other organisms, such as humans? Our experiments have shown how blood can be kept safe for longer periods of time. If we could apply this information to organ transplants, transfusion processes and keeping organs for extended periods of time, we will be able to revolutionize the entire field of organ transplants.

“And, lastly, these particular enzymes go down the assembly line: they eventually form the building blocks of DNA. Therefore, we can look at how replication of cells begins, at the source. We can then try to slow down the progression of dividing cells – which are often mutating and result in diseases such as cancer – from taking over the organs and tissues throughout the body.”

Dieni, who has degrees from Concordia and Carleton universities, and a post-doctorate from Penn State University, has recently published a related paper. The paper, which was co-authored with Carleton biochemist Ken Storey, was published in the renowned Journal of Comparative Physiology B. It focused on the regulation of the glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in a liver of a freeze-tolerant frog. The research for the paper began four years ago, but Dieni was writing and polishing the paper until this fall.

He is currently working on his next paper, which is also related to glucose metabolism.

For more information about Chris Dieni’s work, please visit



  • Christopher Dieni said:

    And, just to provide the newest update, the “next paper” which is mentioned at the end of this article has now, as of last night, officially been submitted. Now to wait the average ~4.7 weeks before turnaround, in which time the manuscript will go through the editor and reviewers to determine its suitability for publication.

    Thanks for reading everyone!

  • Diabetes frog | Sellukus said:

    […] How little frogs can help find a cure to cancer and diabetes | FAJO …Jan 6, 2011 … frogs. cancer, diabetes, science, research, canada. […]

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