In spite of causing millions of dollars in damages each year, it seems that Heterobasidion annosum, a widespread forest pathogen, might actually be able to offer a significant contribution to the world of medicine. Polish researchers are looking at ways of using the plant in combating colorectal cancer.
Prof. Halina Car, head of the Experimental Pharmacology Department at the Medical University of Bialystok is leading the investigation, and she is reporting “spectacular results”. Testing was done on physiological cells and colon cancer cells grown in a lab, and then on laboratory mice.
“Our research carried out on cell lines showed that cancer cells died in comparison to those that did not receive the fungus extract”, noted Dr. Car. She also pointed out that the procedure induced very little toxicity to surrounding healthy cells. “This is very important because anti-cancer drugs usually also destroy healthy cells and are very toxic. The idea was to find a less toxic alternative“.
The fungus is very common in the Northern Hemisphere and particularly in the Białowieża Forest. It produces a white rot which affects the root of trees, especially in conifers. The infection slowly works its way up, in some cases killing more than half the tree before showing any symptoms.
The American Cancer Society estimates more than 100,000 new cases of colorectal cancer each year. Even though the mortality rate is steadily dropping, it is still the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
Interestingly enough, this is not a unique case. There are actually four drugs based on fungal compounds with anticancer potential registered in the world at this moment.