Can a substance from a fungus that grows on decaying trees provide a cure for aggressive prostate cancer? This is the hope of researchers at Lund University in Sweden.
In an interdisciplinary collaborative effort involving urologists, molecular biologists and chemists in Malmo and Lund, scientists are trying to develop this compound into a means for combating certain forms of prostate cancer.
In 2006 in Europe, an estimated 345,900 prostate cancer cases were diagnosed. In Sweden with nearly 10,000 new cases of prostate cancer per year, this is the most common form of cancer among men in Sweden. The disease often develops slowly, but the proportion of more aggressive forms of prostate cancer is growing. The fungal compound galiellalactone could be used against tumors that cannot be treated with surgery or radiation and does not respond to hormone treatment.
“In our trials this compound has curbed the growth of prostate cancer cells both in animal experiments and in laboratory experiments,” says the researcher Rebecka Hellsten. The research team she belongs to was recently granted SEK 1.3 million from the Holger K. Christiansen Foundation in Denmark. The team consists of Dr. Rebecka Hellsten and Professor Anders Bjartell from the Section for Urological Cancer Research at the University Hospital in Malmo and Professor Olov Sterner and Dr. Martin Johansson from the Section for Organic Chemistry at Lund University.
Olov Sterner and his associates do research on organic molecules from plants, fungi, and marine organisms, and how they can be used in the development of drugs or industrially useful substances. They have developed a synthetic method for producing the fungal compound and will now attempt to tweak the substance to make it even more effective against tumor cells.
The mushroom the substance originates from is called Galiella rufa, which grows in clusters on old wood in eastern North America. The fungi are bowl-shaped, dark on the outside, reddish yellow on the inside, and a few centimeters across. It was discovered that this particular mushroom can be used to fight prostate cancer in connection with a study run by a German research team, when they were testing extracts from various species of fungi to find substances that could disrupt a certain signaling pathway in human cells.
“The German scientists were not thinking about prostate cancer, but the signaling pathway the study targeted is also relevant to these particular tumor cells. If we can alter the fungal substance synthetically so it impacts the signaling in tumor cells even more effectively, we could have a drug for tumors that we can’t deal with today,” says Rebecka Hellsten.