Cancer Fighting Power Seen in Fungus

First Posted: Dec 05, 2012 06:47 AM EST

Researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have made an interesting discovery; they found that nanoparticles produced by a fungus named Arthrobotrys Oligospora have some cancer fighting power.

The team, led by Mingjun Zhang, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Tennessee, discovered that these nanoparticles have the capacity to stimulate the immune system and kill tumors.

Zhang commonly looks to nature for solutions to the world's challenges. 

Arthrobotrys Oligospora basically survives on a diet of roundworms. Therefore, Zhang and research associate Yongzhong Wang examined the fungus and noticed its trapping mechanism for roundworms. They discovered the fungus secretes nanocomposites consisting of highly uniform nanoparticles. 

"Naturally occurring nanoparticles have drawn increasing interest from scientific communities for their biocompatibility," said Zhang. "Due to their high surface-to-volume ratio, nanoparticles have demonstrated unique optical, thermal and electronic properties. In addition, their small size allows them to easily cross cell membranes, an essential requirement for cancer therapy."

Apart from this they also investigated the fungal nanoparticles' potential as stimulants for the immune system. They noticed through an in vitro study that the nanoparticles activate secretion of an immune-system stimulant within a white blood cell line.

By testing in vitro the toxicity to cells using two tumor cell lines, they investigated the nanoparticles' potential as antitumor agents. They finally discovered that nanoparticles do kill cancer cells.

According to Zhang, "nature faces many diseases, and offers rich mechanisms for curing them as a result of evolution. Nature-based nanostructures possess near endless diversity, which may offer novel solutions for therapeutic applications."

"This study could be the entrance into a gold mine of new materials to treat cancers," said Zhang. "Understanding how these nanostructures are formed in the natural systems will also provide templates for the synthesis of a future generation of engineered nanostructures for biomedical applications."

"This exciting discovery is the first step forward in the development of natural nanoparticle-based therapeutics for cancer treatment and demonstrates the importance of looking to nature for innovation in disease treatment," said Zhang.

This study opens new opportunity for controlling the production of organic nanoparticles using synthetic biology.

The findings are published in this month's edition of Advanced Functional Materials.

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