As an avid cook, Marianna Koczywas, M.D., knows just how delicious wild mushrooms can taste in her gastronomic creations. As a physician, she also knows that many of her patients, especially those from Asian cultures, consume shiitake mushrooms for their reputed immune-boosting powers.
“For centuries, people have used medicinal mushrooms to improve health,” said Koczywas, medical oncologist at City of Hope.
Koczywas recently brought her interest in culinary ingredients together with her drive to find better treatment options for lung cancer patients. She serves as principal investigator at City of Hope for a new phase I clinical trial evaluating MM-10-001, an investigational drug that comes from the shiitake mushroom, or Lentinula edodes.
|Marianna Koczywas eyes mushrooms’ potential healing properties. (Photo by Alicia Di Rado)|
The drug is a liquid and incorporates Lentinan, a derivative from the main body of the mushroom.
As Koczywas explained, not only do shiitake mushrooms taste good, but they contain key components called beta-glucans.
“In the recent past, clinical research showed that beta-glucans found in certain medicinal mushrooms could exert immune-enhancing activity,” she said. And laboratory studies show that these beta-glucans can stimulate white blood cells and increase production of cytokines, small molecules that send signals to immune cells.
Lentinan does not attack cancer cells directly, but may produce an anti-tumor effect by activating different immune responses in the body.
As Koczywas notes, researchers see abnormalities in the immune systems of patients with advanced lung cancer, especially depletion of certain T cells and B cells, which are important to the body’s defenses. Researchers want to find out if the drug MM-10-001 can improve immune function for those with lung cancer.
Koczywas’ study will test the safety and side effects for escalating doses of the substance among patients with advanced metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. Study participants will take the liquid drug MM-10-001 orally every day.
She and her colleagues will also look for signs of immune response in study participants, including changes in levels of cytokines such as interleukin 2 and interleukin 4.
The study is the latest at City of Hope to look at the cancer-fighting benefits of mushrooms. Researchers also are testing the fungus’ ability to stave off breast and prostate cancers.
Lentinula edodes is an edible mushroom native to East Asia. It is generally known in the English-speaking world by its Japanese name, shiitake, which means “shii mushroom.” Shii is the Japanese name of the tree that provides the dead logs on which the shiitake is typically cultivated.