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article imageWhy scientists are using fungi to make medicinal drugs

By Tim Sandle     Dec 7, 2019 in Science
A new review of reviews finds that an array of products drawn from in excess of 10,000 fungi could be the key to the development of new medicines. Included among the compounds was a product that led to the cholesterol lowering drug lovastatin.
Using the database, scientists are developing a library and are undergoing the task of screening the contents for biologically active compounds, materials that may have the basis as active pharmaceutical ingredients for future drugs.
The research is relatively novel given that fungi stand as an excellent, but relatively underexplored source of compounds with medicinal value. The example cited to illustrate this is lovastatin, produced by the fungus Aspergillus terreus. Lovastatin is used as a cholesterol lowering drug.
Lovastatin, sold under the brand name Mevacor among others, is a statin medication, to treat high blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The use of the oral medication is recommended together with appropriate lifestyle changes.
According to lead scientists Jelmer Hoeksma (Hubrecht Institute): "Every year new compounds produced by fungi are identified, but so far we have only investigated a very small subset of all existing fungi. This suggests that many more biologically active compounds remain to be discovered."
The fungi profiled for the database were drawn from the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute collection. This research combined expertise in the fields of developmental biology, fungal cultures and chemistry.
The collection was composed of filtrates, which contain each of the products excreted by a fungus. The fungal products are being subjected to zebrafish embryos, which enables the impact of the fungus on the whole body during the development phase.
So far, from the library of 10,000 products, some 1,526 filtrates have been identified as containing biologically active compounds which exert an effect upon zebrafish embryos. From this cohort, some 150 filtrates have been selected for further analysis.
The 150 filtrates have produced 34 known compounds. These could provide the basis for new and novel drug therapies.
The development of the library has been described in a paper published in Nature Scientific Reports, which is titled “A new perspective on fungal metabolites: identification of bioactive compounds from fungi using zebrafish embryogenesis as read-out.”
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