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Researchers hope power of 'Death Cap' mushroom can help fight cancer

Last Updated Oct 8, 2018 at 12:05 pm PDT

(iStock)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Local researchers have successfully created the death cap mushroom’s lethal toxin in the lab. Now, they’re hoping it can be used in the fight against cancer.

“We’ve been fascinated with a toxin that’s found in the mushroom amanita phalloides, which is probably the mushroom that gives all mushrooms a bad name, because it’s the mushroom that if you eat it you die,” Dr. David Perrin, a chemistry professor at UBC, explains. “This is a historic mushroom, actually. It was used to murder Emperor Claudius.”

In the 1980s, it was hypothesized that the toxin in the death cap mushroom could be used to target cancer cells. Six year ago in Germany, researchers tested this toxin on mice with pancreatic cancer.

“When they injected this antibody into mice, three out of five mice survived to end points, did not die of pancreatic cancer. And that’s pretty impressive because there are a lot of cases when we’ll cure cancer in mice for a certain period of time, but not forever. In other cases, pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult to address.”

However, it’s been difficult to do further research the effects of the toxin because it is so difficult and dangerous to extract it from death caps directly.

That’s why Perrin and his team at UBC created it in the lab.

“One of the things that you do as synthetic chemists is you make compounds, and one of the ways to prove that you can, sort of, best nature is to do the synthesis of the toxin that nature’s given us. Once you do that, you have, essentially, total mastery of that molecule.”

He adds this hasn’t been done for about six decades. Perrin likens the process to climbing a mountain, and the challenges that are identified while on the path to doing so.

“In this context it’s a synthetic mountain,” he tells NEWS 1130. “You climb this, you say ‘we know how to make this.’ If we know how to make it, we’re empowered now to make compounds, or derivatives, or new compounds that are going to have attenuated toxicity. If you can do that, you can start exploring the applications for curing cancer.”

What comes next is the creation of more derivatives, Perrin explains. After having developed a portfolio of molecules inspired by the death cap mushroom toxin, he says researchers were be able to potentially evaluate their activity against certain types of cancer cells.

“The long-term goal in four years is that we’re going to be curing cancer in Canadian mice, to make our own synthetic cancer cures.”