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A Class Act

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Dr Arthur White, President of the NSW Frog and Tadpole Study Group, brings a good news story about the ability of youth to do something positive and scientifically ground-breaking. Recently the prize-winners in the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards were announced and the winner of the category for school students comes on the back of something extraordinary.

Hannah Sutton, a 16 year old from Tasmania was interested in frogs and came across information about bioengineering companies. They had discovered that frogs produce all sorts of proteins that have biological effects. One protein, Caerin 1.9, is extracted from the common green tree frog and has been in commercial production for nearly 20 years. Initially used as a new generation antibiotic another function was just recently discovered and it promises to be a potent agent for treating HIV. 

Instead of attacking the HIV pathogen itself, it attacks the proteins the pathogen releases. In other readings she came across information about Alzheimer’s disease, the amyloid beta protein that it releases causing the deterioration of nerve cells that lead to Alzheimer’s.
Hannah had the idea that Caerin 1.9 might be a protein that could counteract the amyloid beta protein so set about a way to research this sophisticated science. To their credit, her schoolteachers supported her efforts and, because such research was beyond the capabilities of the school labs, they contacted the CSIRO laboratory at the Hobart Menzies Research Institute. The CSIRO staff were also supportive, giving her lab space and help. The staff there gave her a crash course in biochemistry and after school she began testing Caerin 1.9 to see whether it blocked the Alzheimer’s protein.
Preliminary results show that it does attack the Alzheimer’s protein, laying the groundwork for professional full-time scientists to see if it can prevent Alzheimer’s altogether. Everyone involved, from the teachers to the CSIRO as well as Hannah Sutton herself, deserve to be congratulated for producing such a class act - made possible from the unique green tree frog compounds.

Text: Victor Barry February 2016. Photo of Hannah Sutton by Luke Bowden

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