Can a Chinese Mushroom Cure an Aggressive Form of Cancer in Humans and Dogs?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania report promising results against a spleen cancer.

Chris Hall  |  Nov 22nd 2013


We can always use good news about cancer; bad news is so easy to find, and so devastating, that hearing the good news is a rare and welcome relief. So here’s some: This week, the University of Pennsylvania announced that a clinical trial using a drug derived from mushrooms is showing success in treating aggressive cancers in dogs. The research might also offer hope for humans with similar cancers.

Penn seems to be the place for work on the parallels between canine and human cancers. In October, I wrote about two scientists, one from the University of Pennsylvania, one from Princeton, who are collaborating to use mammary cancer tumors from dogs to study how breast cancer progresses in humans.

This latest news from Penn focuses on a cancer of the spleen, called hemangiosarcoma, which is extremely aggressive and lethal. After diagnosis, most dogs have a lifespan of weeks or months. But some who have been treated with the mushroom compound have survived for more than a year.

The real tragedy of this form of cancer is how quickly it strikes, and how completely it can destroy a dog. One minute the dog seems perfectly healthy, and the next, the clock is counting down on the dog’s life.

“The presentation is very acute,” Dottie Brown, a researcher at Penn, told ABC News. “The dog looks completely normal, running around the yard and then literally collapses in a short period of time and gets into an emergency room situation. Usually it is growing in the abdomen and also the spleen and no one sees it, then it breaks open and bleeds. … Most without treatment, removing the spleen, live about three months. It’s very short.”

The compound is derived from a Chinese mushroom called the Yunzhi mushroom; the ingredient that’s of interest to researchers is polysaccharopeptide, or PSP for those of us without medical degrees. Researchers are looking at PSP’s abilities to boost immune responses and fight tumors.

The sample size is currently very small: the study looked at 15 dogs divided into three groups, each of which received a different dosage. As of now, toxicity screens have shown no side effects from the drugs.

It remains to be seen whether PSP’s benefits will hold up to larger, more extensive testing. If it does, Brown believes it will be good for many more kinds of cancers.

“We believe if we can definitely show this can decrease the spread of tumors, it will be applicable in other kinds of tumors, not just hemangiosarcomas in dogs, cats, and people,” she says.

Jeff Gillman, whose dog Reuben was one of the test subjects, is very happy with the results so far. Reuben was diagnosed in July, and under previous treatment plans he would be dead by now.

“We go to the beach and he runs in to the ocean and we give him ice cream sundaes,” Gillman says. “We go to the dog park and he gets chased around by his friends. He’s doing well and has put on weight. He looks like the handsome good-looking boy again.”

Via ABC News

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