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Medicine extracted from poisonous mushrooms tested against kidney cancer

In a new clinical study at Karolinska University Hospital, the first patient has been treated with a drug whose active ingredient comes from one of Sweden’s most poisonous mushrooms. The purpose of the clinical phase I/II trial is to study whether this can become a treatment for patients with metastatic kidney cancer.

Several species of fungus in the genus Cortinarius, such as the deadly webcap which occurs in Scandinavia, are highly toxic. The poison in the mushroom is called orellanine and it is a nephrotoxin that causes serious damage to the kidneys and in larger doses destroys the kidneys.

– In the same way orellanine is actively transported in healthy kidney cells, it also seems to be actively transported in kidney cancer cells both within the kidney and within metastatic lesions, says Jeffrey Yachnin, senior consultant at the Center for Clinical Cancer Studies at Karolinska University Hospital.

– What´s fascinating is that orellanine maybe completely harmless to the body’s other organs and tissues and not cause any side effects. This opens up the possibility to use it to treat kidney cancer patients, who are already dependent on dialysis due to lack of their own kidney function, says Jeffrey Yachnin.

Kidney cancer is often discovered late, and sometimes by chance, when the cancer has already progressed. A kidney cancer that has become metastatic can seldom be cured by surgery.

The drug was developed in Sweden and is now being tested for the first time on patients in a clinical study at Karolinska. The study will include approximately 40 patients that Karolinska will recruit both from Sweden and other countries.

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