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Scientists Study Mushrooms For Potential Cancer Treatments Researchers Study Extracts From Over 1,300 Mushrooms In Past Year
POSTED: 2:41 p.m. EST November 10, 2003
Some scientists are testing thousands of mushrooms in search of potential cancer treatments.
Marilyn Ruhlen was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. The news was frightening, but not surprising, because there is a strong history of the disease in her family -- her father and grandmother both had cancer.
On my mother's side, her brother and sister [had cancer], so another aunt and uncle had cancer," Ruhlen said.
Scientists find Ruhlen's story, and the millions like it, motivating as they search for cures.
Dr. Nick Oberlies heads a mushroom cancer research project at the Research Triangle Institute in Raleigh, N.C. It's the same lab where the cancer drug Taxol was discovered from trees.
"It's [the mushroom] got to protect itself. It's got to keep deer, chipmunks, squirrels, etc. from eating it. It might produce chemical compounds that have some sort of chemical advantage," Oberlies said.
Oberlies and his team are hoping to tap into that chemical advantage to save lives. They've sampled the extracts of more than 1,300 mushrooms in the last year alone.
"Of those [mushrooms], 30 to 40 showed unique activity. We're working through those trying to determine which ones have unique compounds," Oberlies said.
The scientists are testing those unique compounds on human cancer cells in the lab.
"We hope to identify from the mushrooms particular agents that are not only going to kill the cancer cells, but are also going to spare normal cells from those toxicities," RTI researcher David Kroll said.
The team hopes to sift through nearly 10,000 mushrooms in the next few years with the hopes that a handful will show enough cancer-fighting potential to make it to human trials.
"I feel very optimistic that we're going to find something interesting. If it's going to be the next cancer drug, it's sometimes a leap of faith and luck. I'm a little superstitious [and I] don't want to get to proud of it, but we'll definitely find something interesting," Oberlies said.
If RTI scientists do find a potential cancer fighter among the fungi, it will be an American mushroom because all of the mushrooms in the study are from North America. And if you think mushroom research sounds a bit strange, the group is also testing the disease fighting potential of bacteria found in soil.
The American Cancer Society is sponsoring the mushroom research. For more information about the mushroom research and the other natural products under study, you can log on to RTI's Web site.