Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Large scale fungal fermentation offers prospects for new cancer medicines of the future

Large scale fungal fermentation offers prospects for new cancer medicines of the future



Dr. Patrick Kobina Arthur – University of Ghana

Prof. James Adjaye – Henrich Heine University of Dusseldorf


The current health emergency readily brings to the fore the anxiety and desperation that having a disease condition without a viable treatment and cure can cause. The desperation can spillover the health sector to engulf the entire society in the event of an outbreak situation, where the contagion spread fast through the society. In the case of slow and silent health emergencies like cancers, the efforts to develop drugs for every specific type of cancer is limited to the priorities and the genetics of the advanced countries that have the need capacity. The leading cancers in Ghana are those affecting liver, breast, cervix/uterine and the prostate, with incidence and mortality rates ranging from 9-20% and 7-18% respectively according to the cancer country profile of 2020.


The unmet needs for effective and safe treatment for cancer patients in Ghana and Africa has served as the main motivation to establish new sources of anticancer drugs that can be harnessed at a low cost. Compounds produced by fungi from different ecological zones have found applications in human medicine, but the resource is far from full exploitation. We have been conducting our research over the past 10 years at the University of Ghana, Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology to determine the prospects of new cancer molecules from a collection of fungi. The efforts over the years has led the discovery of sub-fractions of the fungal extracts that possess strong effect in control fungal pathogens and some cancer cells.


These sub-fractions occur in unfortunately small quantities hampering detailed analysis leading to clinical development. This requires further work i to fully explore the usefulness of the substance in these important sub-fractions. To strengthen our hand in pressing onto bigger and more costly efforts, we needed to obtain deeper insights into the true potential of the substances we have which happened in to be tiny quantities. For this important work, we collaborated with Prof. Dr. James Adjaye’s team at the Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf - Germany who have long standing experience, advanced expertise and the technology to perform such vital deep probing experiments1,2.


The results of the advanced analysis have recently been published in an international Peer reviewed scientific journal of high repute3. With Dr.  Ethel Juliet Serwaa Blessie (PhD co-supervised by Dr Patrick Kobina Arthur and Prof. James Adjaye) as first author. We could show that the extracts have anti-cancer properties - more precisely, it slowed down the growth of liver cancer cells in a dish.


The insights shared with the research community clearly points to a high potential for obtaining potent new cancer medicines from the fungal sources we are currently studying. This is certainly an important milestone that calls for more resources to continue the push towards the development of treatment options. This will be helpful for people who suffer cancers in Ghana and Africa for which there are no cost effective, safe and effective treatments.


We have obtained through the DAAD, (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst /German Academic Exchange Service - ) a competitive PhD Fellowship funding to pursue the work to further identify components within the active sub-fractions which have anti-cancer properties. We aim to work with primary colon and liver cancer cells isolated from fresh   name the cancer types tumor biopsies from Ghana to reflect the genetic background of the country and the continent. These studies will be carried out in both of our laboratories in Ghana and Germany. The team currently open to the young scientists with passion and skills in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Molecular Cell Biology and Computer Science to join to continue to deepen the gains and realize the ultimate goals.


In a relative effort, the team is also working at developing the local capacity for large scale fermentation to provide sufficient quantities of the active ingredients coming out of the discovery work. This is important to advance the drug development process into the pre-clinical phase which is usually the limiting step in drug discovery efforts. Many active ingredients are too difficult to produce in sufficient quantities to the wide variety of studies needed to validate a new promising chemical entity as being ideal for the expensive clinical development.



1. Otte J, Dizdar L, Behrens B, Goering W, Knoefel WT, Wruck W, Stoecklein NH, Adjaye J. FGF Signalling in the Self-Renewal of Colon Cancer Organoids (2019). Sci Rep. 9(1):17365.  doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-53907-7.

2. Regenbrecht CR1, Jung M, Lehrach H, Adjaye J. (2008). The molecular basis of genistein-induced mitotic arrest and exit of self-renewal in embryonal carcinoma and primary cancer cell lines. BMC Med Genomics. 1:49.  doi: 10.1186/1755-8794-1-49.

3. Blessie EJ, Wruck W, Abbey BA, Ncube A, Graffmann N, Amarh V, Arthur PK, Adjaye J. (2020). Transcriptomic analysis of marine endophytic fungi extract identifies highly enriched anti-fungal fractions targeting cancer pathways in HepG2 cell lines. BMC Genomics. 21(1):265.  doi: 10.1186/s12864-020-6684-z.

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