- The deadly mushrooms kill up to 100 people a year and sicken thousands more, but have no antidote.
- Scientists used CRISPR to help identify a chemical that could become the first deadly antidote.
- Half of the mice poisoned with the death cap toxin survived after the new treatment.
The death cap is the deadliest fungus known to man. Every year it kills about 100 people and sickens thousands more.
Many of its victims are unsuspecting pickers who mistake it for the edible mushrooms it resembles, such as paddy balls and straws.
There is no antidote to the fungus’ deadly toxin. The only way to survive if you eat one by mistake – even half a cap could shut down your liver – is a trip to the ER.
But that could change soon enough.
A recent study in Nature Communications has finally found a possible antidote to deadly mushrooms. Researchers report that an FDA-approved compound known as indocyanine green (ICG) can inhibit the fungus’ deadly toxin.
An antidote to deadly mushrooms is long overdue
Scientists have been studying death mushrooms since the early 1700s, but an antidote has largely eluded them because “we know little about how toxins from mushrooms kill cells,” Qiaoping Wang, professor of pharmacology at the Sun Yat-Sen University and one of the study leaders. authors, Insider said.
Many toxins such as cyanide, botulinum toxin and asbestos can be destroyed or denatured by heating, drying, cooling or boiling them. But none of these methods work on the death cap toxin, alpha-amanitin.
To identify a potential antidote, Wang and his colleagues turned to the gene-editing tool CRISPR. They sifted through thousands of human genes and found it to be a promising type of enzyme called STT3B. In particular, cells lacking this STT3B survived when scientists poisoned them with alpha-amanitin.
But turning off STT3B in cells with CRISPR isn’t something you can just do in a hospital on a poisoned, dying patient. To identify a possible antidote for Death Cape victims, the researchers took an extra step to test various chemicals and their effect on STT3B.
They found a promising candidate in the chemical indocyanine green. “ICG is a potent inhibitor of STT3B that can prevent AMA-induced cell death,” they reported in the study.
Will the antidote work for humans?
ICG is a dye currently used to diagnose liver and heart activity and check for abnormalities in blood vessels, tissues and lymph nodes. When researchers tested ICG on mice poisoned with the toxin from the death cap mushroom, the results were eye-opening.
“ICG demonstrated significant potential to blunt the toxic impact of alpha-amanitin in liver cells and mice,” Wang said.
About 50% of mice that received the ICG antidote survived the toxin. In addition, no side effects were observed in mice as a result of treatment.
Of course, more research is needed to determine therapeutic benefits in human subjects.
“To that end, the research team intends to conduct human trials to assess the effectiveness of ICG in people who have recently ingested poisonous mushrooms,” Wang told Insider. “These tests will yield more definitive results and provide a clearer picture of ICG’s potential to revolutionize the treatment of mushroom poisoning,” Wang said.