A mushroom used for centuries in Eastern Asian medicine might be able to improve the effects of a particular anticancer drug, according to research published in the British Journal of Cancer* today.

Researchers based at the Boston University School of Medicine in the USA studied extracts of a type of mushroom called Phellinus linteus**. They tested its effects on prostate cancer cells and found that when it was combined with doxorubicin, a well-known cancer chemotherapy drug, it increased the number of cancer cells killed by the drug.

Their findings raise the possibility that a constituent of these mushrooms could one day be used in combination with existing chemotherapy to boost the effectiveness of treatment for some cancer patients. It might also mean lower doses of chemotherapy would be needed to achieve the same response.

Lead researcher Dr Chang-Yan Chen said: “This species of mushroom has been reported to have some degree of activity in cancer patients. Our aim was to study what effect, if any, extracts of Phellinus linteus have, but we also need to know precisely how it produces these effects. Only when we have all this information will we be able to make full, safe and effective use of these mushroom extracts in people.”

The laboratory studies showed that low doses of doxorubicin or mushroom extract alone could not kill prostate cancer cells. Higher doses of the drug did kill them, but combining a low dose of doxorubicin with mushroom extract killed even more cancer cells, and did not affect healthy cells.

The researchers could not be sure of how the mushroom extract, provided by Dr Sung-Hoon Kim of Kyung Hee University, South Korea, produced its effect, although they have learned more about its activity in cells.

Dr Richard Sullivan, director of clinical programmes at Cancer Research UK, said: “Many important drugs have been developed from natural sources, including the anticancer drug Taxol, derived from yew trees. Fungi contributed in the development of penicillin and the migraine drug ergotamine.

“But compounds from natural products cannot be assumed to be safe. Rigorous scientific studies are required to understand the full range of effects they produce. There was evidence that extracts of Phellinus linteus slowed tumour progression. Now they have shown promise in combination with one type of chemotherapy drug, but it is still too early to say whether it will be successful in the long run.”


For media enquiries please contact Michael Regnier in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264059.


* British Journal of Cancer, Volume 95, Issue 3 – British Journal of Cancer ** Phellinus linteus is called ‘song gen’ in Chinese medicine, ‘sang-hwang’ in Korean, and ‘meshimakobu’ in Japanese.

Dr Sullivan is a co-author of “Medicinal Mushrooms and Cancer” – available for download here.

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