April 17, 2008

Good Fungus, Bad Fungus: Cryptococcus and Phellinus in the News

I'm still insanely busy and haven't had time to keep up with reading, let alone writing, blogs. The ends of semesters are crazy times.

Still, a couple of recent stories in the news regarding fungi caught my eye and they're worth a quick note.

First, the bad news. There appears to have been another death in British Columbia caused by Cryptococcus gattii. This time, the victim is a 45 year old woman from Cowichan Bay. The article doesn't mention whether she was immunocompromised; most people who have contracted C. gattii infections have been. That's bad enough, so I hope that she had some prior medical history that explains her susceptibility. For otherwise healthy people to start succumbing would point to the possibility of an even worse scenario.

Fungus suspected in Cowichan Bay death

The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating the death of a Cowichan Bay woman at Victoria General Hospital Tuesday morning who is suspected to have died from a yeast-like fungus found on trees on Vancouver Island.

Regional coroner Rose Stanton said the 45-year-old woman's death is under investigation but she is suspected to have died from Cryptococcus gattii. Results won't be available until the end of the week. About one person dies from the disease in B.C. each year...
There's also good news, though. I haven't read the publication yet, but it's being reported that an extract from the hymenochaete Phellinus linteus may ultimately help in treating cancer by preventing angiogenesis. Any potential new tool in fighting cancer is to be cause for a little celebration, though it should be cautioned that this has only been tested by direct application to cancer cells in a petri dish; it's a long way off from human trials. Still, yay Phellinus!
Mushroom extract may stop breast cancer growth

Extracts from a mushroom used for centuries in Eastern Asian medicine may stop breast cancer cells from growing and could become a new weapon in the fight against the killer disease, scientists said on Tuesday.

Laboratory tests using human breast cancer cells show the mushroom called Phellinus linteus has a marked anti-cancer effect, probably by blocking an enzyme called AKT. AKT is known to control signals that lead to cell growth.

Phellinus linteus -- called song gen in Chinese medicine, sang-hwang in Korean and meshimakobu in Japanese -- has previously been shown to have anti-tumour properties on skin, lung and prostate cancer cells.

The new research on breast cancer, however, marks the first time that scientists have started to understand how it works...

The findings were reported in the British Journal of Cancer.
This latest story comes on the heels of a recent report that a compound in Ganoderma lucidum (also polyporoid but only distantly related to Phellinus) blocks androgen receptors and thus may be useful in treating or even preventing prostate cancer. It all makes me proud to be a mad mycologist, even if a few bad apples like Cryptococcus and Puccinia crop up. Those aren't charismatic macrofungi, anyhow.

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