Israeli researchers have discovered that extracts inside the edible Oyster mushroom contain chemicals that bind themselves to molecules in cancer cells and kill them. After demonstrating their effectiveness on human and mice cells, the scientists are now seeking funding for human clinical trials.
REHOVOT, ISRAEL (REUTERS) - Extracts isolated from an edible mushroom, Pleurotus Pulmonarius, have killed human cancer cells inside a test tube in an Israeli laboratory. Researchers from the Institute of Biochemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem tested the extracted chemicals, called alpha-glucans, on human and mice cells. They haven't yet conducted human trials, but believe that alpha-glucans show the potential to be used to both prevent and treat colon cancer.
The researchers, led by Professor Betty Schwartz, found that extracts inside the Pleurotus Pulmonarius, commonly known as the Indian Oyster, had characteristics that bound themselves to molecules in cancer cells and killed them.
Schwartz, head of the School of Nutritional Sciences at the Institute of Biochemistry at the university in Rehovot, revealed that by killing the cells of human cells, alpha-glucans demonstrated a preventive effect that scientists could build upon. She added that the chemicals had potential for use in cancer treatment because they interfered with the binding capability of cancer cells to blood vessels in the colon, stopping these from spreading to other sites in the body.
The alpha-glucans also moderated the inflammatory response of cancerous cells. Although the inflammatory process is vital to the body's healing process, chronic inflammation can increase disease-associated morbidity.
"Pleurotus Pulmonarius is an edible mushroom, we can buy and we can have access in anywhere in the markets or in the supermarkets etc. And our experience with it that after isolation of glucan, which is a sugar base molecule after concentration of the part of the mushroom, if we give it to human cells in vitro or to mice in vivo, we can avoid inflammation and we can avoid cancer related steps," said Schwartz from her office inRehovot.
She believes that eventually the alpha-glucans could become a weapon in the fight against colon cancer. Most colon cancer, also known as colorectal or bowel cancer, occurs due to lifestyle and increasing age with only a minority of cases associated with underlying genetic disorders. Figures from GLOBOCAN, a project sponsored by theWorld Health Organization (WHO), show 1.23 million new cases of colorectal cancer were clinically diagnosed in 2008, and it killed 608,000 people that year.
"We have tested it also for treatment and also for prevention and in both have shown that it is a very effective treatment. Since it also the alpha-glucans also effect inflammation, an inflammation is present in the pre-cancer steps or in post cancer steps so that's why we think that it will be also prevention and also treatment," Schwartz explained.
The glucan extract was tested on colon cancer but Professor Schwartz said they also believe that when alpha-glucans flow through the blood it will effect other types of cancer, such as breast cancer and liver cancer.
As Schwartz toured the vegetable stalls of the local market of Rehovot, in central Israel, she was at pains to point out that eating the Pleurotus Pulmonarius mushroom itself would have no effect on health. The alpha-glucan extracts were made from high quantities of the mushroom, not a realistic amount to eat, although she was happy to recommend their purchase to shoppers on different grounds. "You can find it even in the market, in the Rehovot market where we live and they are very tasty and people should be encouraged just to eat them," Schwartz said.
But not everyone is convinced of the cancer-killing potential of the humble mushroom.Keith Jones, Professor of Synthetic Chemistry at the UK-based Institute of Cancer Research, said other natural compounds showed similar capabilities without ever making it into drug treatments.
"They show effects against colon cancer cells in mice, that they stop or they alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and some people have connected that with the very early stage in cancer in the colon. However, there are many compounds out there in nature and in the labs generally which will inhibit cancer cell growth and there's an awful lot of work to do to take any of those to actually be a drug to treat cancer," he said.
The findings were published in peer-reviewed journals such as Journal of Gastroenterology, British Journal of Nutrition, Cancer Letters, Applied Microbiology andBiotechnology, and as a book chapter in Springer Editorial.
Professor Schwartz said she now hopes to raise money to conduct clinical research on humans.