Medicinal Mushrooms from Old-Growth Forests May Counter Smallpox and Similar Viruses
Mycologist Paul Stamets tests over 100 mushroom extracts with NIH and USAMRIID. Several show selective potent anti-viral properties.
Kamilche Point, Washington 24 March 2005 -- Recent in vitro tests demonstrate that a specially prepared extract from Fomitopsis officinalis is highly selective against viruses. F. officinalis is a wood conk mushroom, known for thousands of years as Agarikon. It is extinct or nearly so in Europe and Asia, and is still found in the old-growth forests of the American Pacific Northwest. It may provide novel anti-viral drugs useful for protecting against pox and other viruses.
That is the forecast of Paul Stamets, owner and director of the research laboratories of Fungi Perfecti of Kamilche Point, Washington. He is a mycologist -- a fungus expert. For the past two years, Stamets has prepared more than a hundred strains of medicinal mushroom extracts for testing by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health and the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), in their joint biodefense antiviral screening program. The results to date promise breakthroughs on this biomedical frontier.
Dr. John A. Secrist III, vice president of Southern Research Institute´s Drug Discovery Division, who oversees an NIAID contract to evaluate potential antiviral drugs, notes that "Several of Stamets´ medicinal mushroom extracts have shown very interesting activity against pox viruses in cell culture assays performed through NIAID, and we are hopeful that they will also prove effective in the animal model systems. The number of different classes of compounds that show promising activity is small, so finding something new would be of great benefit to the scientific community." In fact, of more than 200,000 samples submitted over several years, only a handful are slated for animal testing each year. In the past year, approximately ten samples showed activity warranting approval for animal testing; of these, two are from strains of Agarikon discovered by Stamets. Moreover, Mr. Stamets´ samples are the only natural products extracts tested through this program that have demonstrated very active anti-pox activity.
The NIH/USAMRIID screening program tests the mushroom extracts against viruses that could be weaponized, including the viruses causing yellow fever, dengue, SARS, respiratory viruses, and pox viruses. Of the Agarikon samples submitted to date, several showed potent activity for reducing infection from vaccinia and cowpox, which are in the same family as the smallpox virus. These extracts show activity against vaccinia and cowpox by two different viral evaluations, demonstrating the reproducibility of the results. Stamets has filed several patents, both US and international, on the anti-viral properties of mushrooms in the Fomitopsis family. However, only compounds derived using Mr. Stamets´ proprietary, patent-pending methodology for cell cultures show activity; simple extracts from the woody conks (such as tea or infusions) are not active. Harvesting these rare conks from the forests will not provide therapeutic benefits and could impair the reproduction of the fungus.
While several strains of extract generated strong anti-pox activity, other strains were less potent. This underscores the importance of conserving mycodiversity. More potent strains may yet be discovered. As for F. officinalis, this mushroom was first described 2000 years ago as an anti-inflammatory medicine by Dioscorides, the Greek physician in his text Materia Medica.
"The ecological niche for these unique mushrooms is increasingly jeopardized as humans destroy old-growth habitats," comments Stamets. "As this happens, the pool of available strains will be further reduced. Acquiring as many strains as possible should be an international priority so that preventive or curative medicines against pox and related viruses can be developed. Personally, I believe we should be saving our old growth forests as a matter of national defense."
Besides having a direct anti-viral or anti-bacterial effect, mushroom derivatives can also activate the natural immune system. Evaluations in an animal model are planned for the near future. "Until then," Stamets cautions, "we cannot draw conclusions about the ultimate effectiveness of these mycologically based antivirals." Testing against other viruses continues. Stamets has already been granted a patent on fungus-derived products; several more are in the offing. His research has been self-funded from his other businesses.
yet2.com is Stamets´ partner for licensing and commercializing his intellectual property.
About Fungi Perfecti
Paul Stamets has written six books, several used as textbooks around the world by the gourmet and medicinal mushroom industry. Fungi Perfecti, LLC (www.fungi.com) was founded in 1980; it has four laboratories, 10,000 sq. ft. of clean rooms, and is equipped with 17 laminar flow benches for doing in vitro propagation work. The culture collection of Fungi Perfecti consists of hundreds of cultures of medicinal mushrooms, many isolated from the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. Stamets has received several environmental awards, including the 1998 "Bioneers Award" from The Collective Heritage Institute, and the 1999 "Founder of a New Northwest Award" from the Pacific Rim Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils. He is an advisor to the Program of Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, Tucson; serves on the Editorial Board of The International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, and was appointed to the G.A.P. (Good Agricultural Practices)/G.M.P. (Good Manufacturing Practices) advisory board of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. Dr. Andrew Weil and David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School are recommending Stamets´ products for immune support. Stamets is the sole-source supplier and co-investigator of the first NIH-funded clinical study using medicinal mushrooms in the United States. He is involved in several other research trials ongoing and pending. His company is the sponsor of the Third International Medicinal Mushroom Conference to be held in Port Townsend, Washington Oct. 12-17, 2005 where researchers from around the world will convene to discuss the latest developments in the use of medicinal mushrooms as sources for new antiviral and anticancer drugs.
The US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, located at Fort Detrick, Maryland, is the lead medical research laboratory for the U.S. Biological Defense Research Program, and plays a key role in national defense and in infectious disease research. The Institute´s mission is to conduct basic and applied research on biological threats resulting in medical solutions (such as vaccines, drugs and diagnostics) to protect the warfighter. USAMRIID is a subordinate laboratory of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.
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