Potent anti-cancer fungus chemical synthesised

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists have said that they have developed a way to manufacture in the laboratory a naturally-occurring chemical previously found only in fungus.

The substance, known as rasfonin, was first discovered by Japanese researchers in 2000, and appears to be able to trick cancer cells into committing suicide, while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

But gathering enough rasfonin from the natural environment to study its activity properly has been extremely difficult, said lead researcher Professor Robert Boeckman.

"You either grow the fungus that makes it, or you go through a complicated chemical synthesis process that still yields only a minute amount.

"Now, after five years of effort, we've worked out a process that lets researchers finally produce enough rasfonin to really start investigating how it functions, and how we might harness it to fight cancer."

The technique developed by Professor Boeckman and his colleagues produces 67 times more rasfonin than previous methods.

"At a guess, I'd say that rasfonin itself will not be the final compound that might come to market," said Professor Boeckman.

"But we need to figure out how it works, how it triggers the cancer cell to shut itself down.

"The key is to find exactly what buttons rasfonin is pushing, and then figure out if there's a way we can safely and more simply push those same buttons. But we couldn't do that until we have enough to test."

The research was conducted at the University of Rochester in the US and published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.