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article imageMushroom toxin fights cancer

By Tim Sandle     Apr 29, 2018 in Science
Scientists have taken one of the most deadly toxins, extracted from a fungus, and demonstrated that the chemical can be used with the treatment of certain types of cancer.
The fungus in question is the death-cap mushroom. The toxin from the mushroom has been used in several historical murders. It now has a potential life-saving use, in the form of cancer treatment.
The fungus (Amanita phalloides) produces a mycotoxin called α‐amanitin. The mushroom is responsible for the majority of fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide. Here just 30 grams (equivalent to 1.1 ounces), or half a cap, of this mushroom is estimated to be enough to kill a human.
Scientists have succeeded in synthesizing the toxin as a medical drug. This process was complicated, but the researchers eventually overcame the challenges and synthesized the death-cap killer compound.
According to Bioscience Technology, α‐amanitin toxin is so deadly because it functions as a potent inhibitor of RNA polymerase II. This is the enzyme that is primarily responsible for transcribing genes into the messenger molecule RNA.
By using α-amanitin bound to antibodies against different tumor molecules, scientists were able to cure mice of pancreatic cancer. This success has led to the commencement of a human trial.
Should the human trial be successful, going forwards a new way will need to be developed to obtain α-amanitin. The current processing of harvesting mushrooms and extracting the toxin is too variable and time-consuming. Moreover, this process limits the quantity of toxin that can be extracted.
The focus is on synthesizing the toxin. However, synthetic production methods are affected by α-amanitin’s atypical bicyclic structure. The researchers had to overcome several obstacles in order to produce sufficient amounts of α-amanitin in the laboratory. Even here, because of the highly toxic nature, the scientists had to limit this production to under a milligram. Going forward, and with enhanced safety measures, it is hoped the process can be scaled up.
With the scale-up and further investigations into the toxicity, the researchers aim to attenuate the toxicity and also to potentially improve α-amanitin’s activity against tumors.
The research has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The research paper is titled “Synthesis of the Death-Cap Mushroom Toxin α-Amanitin.”
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