The Life Saving Power of Poison

Verticillin A sensitizes cancer cells to TRAIL and cancer drugs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you ate this magic mushroom, it would kill you. But a compound it contains apparently helps the body battle cancer as it's designed to do.

A poisonous mushroom found in a remote Southwest China forest has a compound that appears to help cancer cells overcome drug resistance.

"A mushroom compound may soon help cancer drugs be more effective."

This compound called verticillin A makes cancer respond to a protein designed to make cancer cells self destruct. The cells are prevented from becoming resistant to TRAIL, which is short for tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis inducing ligand.

Drug resistance is the major reason why patients with metastatic cancer don't respond to treatment, accounting for more than 90 percent of therapy failures.

Lead author, Dr. Kebin Liu, a cancer immunologist at the Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) Cancer Center, describes this discovery succinctly - "If we can make drugs work again, more people will survive."

Cancer is a tough and tenacious biological phenomenon. Cancer cells, according to co-author Dr. Wendy Bollag, cell physiologist at GHSU, find ways to resist suicide, which is how and why TRAIL works.

In an animal study, researchers found that when the mushroom compound was combined with TRAIL, previously resistant cancer cells began to die.

Verticillin A also improved the efficacy of two other commonly used cancer drugs - etoposide and cisplatin. Liu says these findings suggest that the compound may be an effective companion to these drugs.

This study looked at how the compound worked on notoriously resistant metastatic human colon cancer cells, sarcoma, lung adenocarcionoma and breast cancer. The studies were performed on cells in culture and cells that had been transplanted into mice.

More study is needed to evaluate safety and toxicity before clinical trials can proceed. Researchers are interested in seeing the potential of verticillin to treat melanoma and pancreatic cancer.

This research has been published in the journal Cancer Research.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 13, 2011
Last Updated:
August 28, 2014