Heterobasidion annosum is a parasitic fungus which destroys forests in the Northern Hemisphere. In the US alone, the fungus is believed to be responsible for $ 1 billion worth of damage as it causes annosus root rot, which destroys conifers. It is considered the most economically significant forest pathogen in terms of damage caused. But, according to researchers from the Medical University and the University of Technology in Bialystok in Poland, the fungus can also destroy cancer cells.
The researchers conducted studies in which they used fungi growing on both living trees and wood. They now want to patent its usage in helping cure people of bowel cancer.
The fungus is believed to have properties which inhibit growth of bowel cancer, which the researchers confirmed in observations made in both cell cultures and animal studies.
These properties were first tested on physiological cells and colon cancer cells grown in the laboratory, before being tested on laboratory mice.
The studies showed cancer cells which received a fungal extract died faster than those which did not.
“When we checked the results of the analysis, it turned out to be a revelation. It was something new, extraordinary. Everything confirms that we are on the right path,” said Halina Car at Bialystok University.
“Everyone we talked to is interested in research. We have received inquiries from all over Poland and abroad about the possibility of transferring fungal extracts for research.”
The researchers have already applied for a patent, which could take up to five years to be granted.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with 42,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Around 268,000 people living in the UK today have bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early, according to Bowel Cancer UK.
Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage, however this drops significantly as the disease develops.
According to the NHS, if the cancer is confined to the bowel, surgery is usually able to completely remove it.
However, there is always a risk the cancer could return at a later stage.
In more advanced cases of bowel cancer where the cancer can’t be completely removed by surgery, a cure is “highly unlikely”, says the NHS.
In these cases, treatment usually aims at controlling symptoms and slowing down the spread of the cancer.
“Treatment for bowel cancer will depend on which part of your bowel is affected and how far the cancer has spread,” said the NHS.
More than 16,000 people die from bowel cancer in the UK every year. It is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, according to Bowel Cancer UK.