UNBC researchers are collecting mushrooms from around the Northwest to see what medicinal properties they may possess.

UNBC researchers are collecting mushrooms from around the Northwest to see what medicinal properties they may possess.

Could local mushrooms cure cancer?

Mushrooms growing around your area could develop into the next big breakthrough in cancer prevention and treatment.

Mushrooms growing around your area could develop into the next big breakthrough in cancer prevention and treatment.

Researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) hope to find more mushrooms around Smithers, Terrace, Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii when they visit later this year. So far, their pickings around Prince George yielded about 20 to 30 species, of which “90 per cent” of them have medicinal benefits.

“It is known throughout the world that some mushrooms have medicinal benefits,” project leader Chow Lee said.

“I’m interested to find out if mushrooms that grow across Northern B.C. have anti-cancer properties … They would stimulate our immune system. The immune cells will then recognize cancer cells… and then they will kill it.”

Lee said he has received funding from Genome British Columbia which allowed him to go farther afield to collect and test unique mushrooms. In an email interview, Genome BC’s vice-president Gabe Kalmar sees this as a “smart” way of exploiting a unique local resource that will attract international attention.

“Although mycologists have undertaken unofficial, unorganized surveys of the mushrooms that grow in Northern BC…nobody has ever done this using molecular tools, which is many orders more accurate,” Kalmar said.

“So this is a first.”

Kalmar said that after Lee establishes his study, he can then enter into more partnerships beyond UNBC that will extend his ability to examine these mushrooms. Lee also hopes to find anti-cancer compounds that specifically target cancer cells rather than killing both cancer and regular cells.

“We’re collecting many species and we’ll do a screen to see which one has anti-cancer biological activity, and then we’ll go from there,” Lee said.

“Basically, right now, we need to prioritize which one we want to go after.”

Mushrooms grow well in rainy, humid climates and flourish in the fall. Lee said southern B.C. has a drier climate and thus mushrooms do not grow as well there, whereas the more forested North, with its climate, makes for better mushroom growing.

However, Lee cautions that while many mushrooms have beneficial properties, he advises against eating unfamiliar mushrooms.

“If that’s a mushroom that doesn’t have any toxic compounds such as shittake, button mushrooms that you buy from the supermarket, then that’s good,” Lee said, “But a lot of these mushrooms in the wild have toxic compounds, so you don’t want to consume them.”

For now, Lee has to keep finding and testing mushrooms in hopes that his research bears fruit.

“Finding a single compound that can be used for treatment – it’s a long road. Using a semi-purified mushroom in a nutraceutical way may be the fastest route for human consumption,” Lee said.