Extracts of the mushroom Phellinus linteus have been used for centuries in Eastern Ancient medicine where it is believed to refresh bodies and extend life. Recent studies have shown that this type of mushroom can slow the growth of different types of cancer cells and improve the effects of anticancer drugs**.
Scientists looking at the effects of Phellinus linteus extracts on breast cancer cells in the lab now also believe they understand how its anti-cancer properties work.
Researchers based at the Methodist Research Institute in Indianapolis, USA, think that the mushroom could stop an enzyme called AKT from working. This enzyme is known to control signals that lead to cell growth and the development of new blood vessels, which are vital for cancer cell survival.
Lead researcher, Dr Daniel Sliva, said: "The anti-cancer properties of this type of mushroom have been recently investigated by scientists using various types of cancer cells.
"We saw a number of positive results from our investigation on aggressive human breast cancer cells, including a lower rate of uncontrolled growth of new cancer cells, suppression of their aggressive behaviour and the formation of fewer blood vessels that feed cancer cells essential nutrients."
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK which owns the British Journal of Cancer, said: "Although natural products have been used to develop many important drugs, there is no guarantee that they are all safe or will be effective in the clinic."
Dr Sliva added: "We're not yet able to apply this knowledge to modern medicine, but we're excited that we can begin to explain how this ancient medicine works by acting on specific molecules. We hope our study will encourage more researchers to explore the use of medicinal mushrooms for the treatment of cancer."
Phellinus linteus is known as 'song gen' in Chinese medicine, 'sang-hwang' in Korean and 'meshimakobu' in Japanese.
Dr Walker added: "The results from this study are interesting, but it's certainly too early to advise people to stock up on mushrooms. Further research will be needed before we will know if mushroom extracts can be used to treat cancer patients."
* Phellinus linteus suppresses growth and invasive behaviour of breast cancer cells through the inhibition of AKT signalling. D Sliva et al. 2008. British Journal of Cancer.
** Phellinus linteus has been shown to have anti-cancer effects on skin, lung and prostate cancer cells. Also, when used in combination with anti-cancer drug doxorubicin, it increased the number of prostate cancer cells killed.
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