Fungi have long served as a source of bioactive compounds, many of which have become important drugs (e.g., penicillin, statins, and cyclosporine). With only 5 to 10 percent of the world’s 1.5 to 5 million fungal species identified, there is an enormous amount of fungal biodiversity waiting to be discovered and tested. The Great Lakes, which hold roughly 18 percent of the world’s fresh water supply, constitute a large and unexplored collection of fungal habitats. Scientists at PRI hypothesize that the Great Lakes contain a unique assemblage of fungi that is untapped for cancer therapeutic development. There is an urgent need to generate new bioactive compounds that slow untreatable pediatric cancers.
The PRI research team is investigating natural products from Great Lakes fungi as a source for new bioactive compounds with application for the treatment of childhood cancers. The team has gathered sediment samples from the Great Lakes. Preliminary data demonstrate that ecologically disparate environments in Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior possess chemically unique groups of fungi. The team also tests the samples for bioactivity pertaining to rare and untreatable pediatric cancers and conducts other steps in anticipation that several new and active molecules from fungi will be obtained to positively impact the field of pediatric oncology.
The studies to date have rewritten the scientific world’s understanding of which fungal species inhabit deep water sediments in the Great Lakes. Approximately 2,000 extracts have been screened per year of the project with roughly 5 percent exhibiting activity against one or more pediatric cancer cell lines (i.e., the extract kills the cancer cells). Several purified natural products have been derived from the active extracts and to date, two compounds have been selected for further pharmacological investigations based on their abilities to selectively inhibit the growth of neuroblastoma cells. The researchers are highly encouraged by selectivity and potency afforded by these fungal-produced natural product inhibitors and continue to screen samples for the ability to inhibit other types of currently untreatable forms of childhood cancer.
Contact: Andrew Miller