A good general rule is to stay away from poisonous plants, especially ones that have such a threatening name, but researchers from The University of British Columbia were not deterred. They managed to synthesize a compound from the deadly mushroom in the hope it can be used to treat cancer cells.
The story might sound a bit strange at first – using a known poison to fight tumors, but in reality, there have been similar theories starting with the early 1980s. In fact, only a few years ago, there was a study that tested this exact claim, though the investigation did not go further because of how difficult it is to extract samples.
Amanita phalloides, or more commonly the “Death cap” mushroom, produces α-amanitin, a bicyclic octapeptide regarded as one of the deadliest known peptide toxins on Earth. Just managing to derive the compound can be seen as an achievement. At first, they had to make a delicate 6-hydroxy-tryptathionine cross-link that could easily form an unwanted oxindole, then use a Strecker amino acid reaction, and finally, add a bulky oxidant to the mix.
After all that came the animal trials. When injecting the particle in laboratory mice exposed to pancreatic cancer, they observed a positive response in about 60 percent of subjects. These are encouraging figures, especially seeing how this form of malignancy can be particularly difficult to treat.
In the long run, the team hopes to improve outcomes and potentially replicate the results with human testing. If everything goes according to plan, they estimate to have a synthetic drug ready in the next four years.