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Sino-Danish researchers discover mushroom with cancer-beating properties


By Amy Clotworthy, Devapriyo Das

COPENHAGEN, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) -- A Sino-Danish research team has identified a new class of compounds in a common mushroom, which could be used to develop cancer-beating drugs, the University of Copenhagen said here Thursday.

According to Soeren Broegger Christensen, a professor of natural products research at Copenhagen University's Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences (Pharma), whose team led the research, the mushroom's unique chemical structure could make it a potent weapon in the battle against cancer cells.

The team isolated certain active compounds from the mushroom, which are particularly aggressive towards cancer cells.

"This is a completely new class of natural compounds, which makes the research results unique," Christensen told Danish newspaper The Copenhagen Post.

He added that the mushroom's chemical structure is different from that of any mushroom species previously analysed.

However, Christensen would not release the mushroom's specific species name, for reasons of intellectual property and a potential patent application.

Dr. Ming Chen, a Chinese-Danish specialist in Chinese traditional medicine, and physician at Soenderborg Hospital in southern Denmark, who was screening poisonous mushrooms, discovered the mushroom years ago.

Since then, Xuemei Liu, a Chinese exchange student at Pharma, isolated the active compounds in the mushroom in order to determine their unique chemical structures.

According to Christensen, the mushroom is 100 times less active, and significantly less toxic, towards benign human cells than malignant cancer cells, based on laboratory models.

"Even though it is more toxic towards cancerous cells, than it is to benign human cells, we don't know yet how it could affect living organisms," Christensen told Xinhua.

"If it appears to be more toxic towards cancer tissue than benign tissue in living animals, and eventually, humans, then it could be accepted as a drug," he added.

Currently, the Pharma team is working to synthesise and refine the natural substances of the mushroom so that they might be used in future drug development.

This is done by producing analogues that contain simplified molecules, but should have all the same properties and promising benefits as the natural compounds.

The analogue, synthetic compounds that fine-tune and even improve on a substance's ingredients, must allow for proper selectivity in the body, meaning that it has all of the natural substance's beneficial characteristics and none of its harmful side effects.

The challenge remains that mushrooms are slow growing, making it difficult to produce sufficiently high quantities of the necessary compounds needed to complete cancer treatments in patients.

"In order to be able to market anything as a drug, you need to ensure you have a sustainable supply of the (relevant) compound," Christensen told Xinhua.

"That is why we need to consider how we can ensure we can supply patients with the compound, if it turns out that it has same promising properties when given to patients, as it does in the models," he said.

Christensen stressed that taking the research results from the laboratory to pharmaceutical production is a long process. The natural substance will have to go through several steps of development at the laboratory stage, followed by clinical trials.

While commercial application is still some way off, the research has received 2.6 million Danish kroner (around 469,000 U.S. dollars) to date from Protech Investment Ltd., a spin-off company of a large Chinese producer of natural medicines.

Traditional medicines derived from plants have been used for centuries in Asia, and are a recognized component of Chinese medicine. Medicinal mushrooms in particular are used in traditional Chinese medicine as ingredients in strengthening tonics, extracts, teas or soups.

More than 200 species of mushrooms, which can be used to treat diseases, have been identified and studied, especially in China and Japan. Research shows some of these contain substances that can prevent cancer or contribute to its treatment.

"Even though there is a wealth of medicinal mushrooms on the Asian market, it is unfortunately not possible to transfer Chinese folk medicine directly to Denmark," Christensen said, referring to cancer treatment possibility using such traditional remedies.

He told The Copenhagen Post that is because the "active principles in mushrooms are often tested in combination with forms of chemotherapy that we do not use in Europe."

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