Microscopy & Microtechniques

  • How a Fungi Library Could Help Find New Drugs

How a Fungi Library Could Help Find New Drugs

Dec 07 2019 Read 1314 Times

Thanks to a vast library of fungi products housed at the Hubrecht Institute, scientists are closer than ever to harnessing the therapeutic properties of eukaryotic organisms and unlocking exciting new drug development opportunities. Working in conjunction with researchers from Utrecht University and the Westerdijk Institute, the team set up a library of more than 10,000 fungi products in the hope of discovering new biologically active compounds.

Mushrooms as medicine

The concept of mushrooms as medicine isn't new, with ancient cultures utilising the therapeutic properties of fungi compounds for thousands of years. Now, the concept is filtering into modern medicine, with researchers at the Hubrecht Institute on the hunt for new, naturally occurring biologically active compounds found in mushrooms, moulds, yeast and other types of fungi.

Lovastatin, a cholesterol lowering drug produced by the fungus Aspergillus terreus, has already been discovered, with the team expecting to find many more medicinal products within the library. To test biological activity, the team used zebrafish embryos to analyse the effects of fungi products on different cell types. Zebrafish have similar physiologically to humans, making them an ideal test subject.

On the hunt for biologically active compounds

The findings of the research were published in the journal Scientific Reports, with the team validating fungi as an excellent, yet undervalued source of coveted therapeutic compounds. "Every year new compounds produced by fungi are identified, but so far we have only investigated a very small subset of all existing fungi," says Jelmer Hoeksma, a researcher at the Hubrecht Institute. "This suggests that many more biologically active compounds remain to be discovered."

Sourcing samples from the Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute, the team set up a catalogue of more than 10,000 filtrates derived from different species of fungi. The team then studied the effects of the filtrates on the development of zebrafish embryos, which mature in a matter of days and make it easy to observe the biological activity of certain fungal compounds. The team pinpointed more than 1500 filtrates with biologically active compounds that affect zebrafish embryos. Of these, 150 were selected for further analysis and 34 were classes as known therapeutics, including lovastatin.

New potential for skin cancer treatment

The team also discovered filtrates that affect pigmentation, which some studies suggest play a key role in the development of malignant skin cancers. For Hoeksma, the study highlights the importance of harnessing the therapeutic properties of nature and spearheading new research into the biologically active compounds produced by fungi.

"The large library of fungal filtrates that we have set up can also be tested in many other systems, such as models for antibiotic resistance in bacteria and tumour development, making this study only the tip of the iceberg," she says.

Want to know more about the hidden properties of plants? Offering commentary from bioimaging expert Dr Joseph McKenna, 'Lasers Reveal the Secrets of Plant Cell Walls' spotlights the latest research from the STFC’s Central Laser Facility (CLF).

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