Dec. 9 - Israeli researchers have discovered that extracts inside the edible Oyster mushroom contain chemicals that bind themselves to molecules in cancer cells and kill them. After demonstrating their effectiveness on human cells in vitro and live mice, the scientists are now seeking funding for human clinical trials. Jim Drury has the story.
Professor Betty Schwartz at Israel's Rehovot market with the mushroom she believes could one day help treat colon cancer. Schwartz's team of biochemists killed human cancer cells in a dish with alpha-glucan chemicals extracted from the Pleurotus Pulmonarius funghi, more commonly known as the Oyster mushroom. Independent cancer experts say it's very early days, but Schwartz insists alpha-glucans show great potential. SOUNDBITE (English) PROF. BETTY SCHWARTZ, INSTITUTE OF BIOCHEMISTRY AT HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM, SAYING: "After isolation of glucan, which is a sugar base molecule after concentration of the part of the mushroom, if we give it to human cells in vitro or to mice in vivo, we can avoid inflammation and we can avoid cancer related steps". The team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found the alpha-glucans bound themselves to molecules in cancer cells before killing them. Eating the mushroom has no effect, as the alpha-glucans exist in miniscule quantities. Scwhartz published her findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Gastroenterology. She says that in a concentrated form, the extracts showed both preventive and treatment effects. SOUNDBITE (English) PROF. BETTY SCHWARTZ, INSTITUTE OF BIOCHEMISTRY AT HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM, SAYING: "Alpha-glucans also effect inflammation, an inflammation is present in the pre-cancer steps or in post cancer steps so that's why we think that it will be also prevention and also treatment". Her findings suggest the chemicals bind cancer cells to blood vessels in the colon, stopping them from spreading to other parts of the body. Professor Keith Jones of the UK-based Institute of Cancer Research, says the results are encouraging but do not represent any kind of breakthgrough. SOUNDBITE (English) KEITH JONES, PROFESSOR OF SYNTHETIC CHEMISTRY, INSTITUTE OF CANCER RESEARCH, SAYING: "They show effects against colon cancer cells in mice, that they stop or they alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and some people have connected that with the very early stage in cancer in the colon. However, there are many compounds out there in nature and in the labs generally which will inhibit cancer cell growth and there's an awful lot of work to do to take any of those to actually be actually a drug to treat cancer." But Schwartz is optimistic and she and her team are now seeking funding for human trials. Colon cancer killed 600,000 people world-wide in 2008. It's treatable if detected early, although fewer than 60 percent of sufferers in Europe survive for more than five years after diagnosis.