Fungal pigment proves promising source of cancer-fighting compounds
Scientists have delved into the makeup of a fungus species and discovered a novel compound with some promising cancer-fighting qualities. The anti-tumor effects were demonstrated in laboratory experiments but the team is optimistic about the path to clinical use, while the work has also serendipitously unearthed a new crimson dye with good food preservation potential.
The fungus species at the center of the research is called Aspergillus cavernicola. The authors of this new study found that an extract of the fungus contained a pigment called cis-cavernamine, a dark crimson dye with similar properties to pigments from a commonly-used fungus called Monascus.
“In China, Monascus has been used for over 2,000 years, both in medicine and the production of red yeast rice,” said lead author of the study Tatiana Antipova. "In contrast to Monascus, which is banned in the United States as a source of citrinin mycotoxin, A. cavernicola can be a safer source of natural dyes.”
The scientists were then able to show that cis-cavernamine can turn into another compound they call monasnicotinic acid (MNA). In laboratory tests on prostate and bladder cancer cells, the scientists found MNA had anti-tumor properties by slowing the growth and migration of these cancer cells by blocking a key signaling pathway.
“MNA’s anti-tumor effect is promising, although not strong enough yet," said Antipova. "We plan to enhance this capability by tweaking the molecule’s structure and have already applied for an RSF (Russian Science Foundation) grant to continue this research. While modified versions of MNA stand a good chance of evolving into effective cancer drugs, cis-cavernamine can be used by the food industry right away.”
Fungus has proven to be a fruitful source of inspiration of cancer researchers, with one recent example coming from white button mushrooms, while synthetic versions of these compounds have also shown promise. In research that bodes well for the team’s path to clinical use, last year we saw scientists take a compound from a Himalayan fungus species and alter it to better infiltrate cancer cells, boosting its potency by up to 40 times and conducting clinical trials to study its effects.
It is still early days for the authors behind this new discovery, but they say the fungus can be grown in bioreactors using agricultural waste, which should aid their efforts to scale up the technology. While there is a lot of work to do to translate it into a clinical drug for cancer treatment, the path toward food preservation appears much shorter.
“It turned out that MNA is released spontaneously from the dye and does not form as a result of fungal metabolism,” said study author Alexander Zherebker. “The mechanism that we assume lies behind this chemical transformation suggests that the dye will have a long-term anti-fungal effect, among other things, which is important for food preservation and storage.”
The research was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.