Death cap mushrooms kill more people each year than any other poisonous mushroom.
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  • Death cap fungi 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 death cap antidote.
  • Half of the mice poisoned with the death cap toxin survived after the new treatment.

The death cap is the deadliest mushroom known to man. Each year it kills an estimated 100 people and sickens thousands.

Many of its victims are unsuspecting foragers who mistake it for the edible mushrooms it resembles, such as puffballs and unpeeled straws.

There is no antidote to the mushroom’s deadly toxin. The only way to survive if you accidentally eat one—even downing just half a cap can shut down your liver—is a trip to the emergency room.

But that could change soon enough.

A recent study in Nature Communications finally found a possible antidote to fungi. The researchers report that an FDA-approved compound known as indocyanine green (ICG) can inhibit the mushroom’s deadly toxin.

An antidote to death cap fungi is long overdue

Mushroom foragers can easily confuse deadcap mushrooms with other edible mushrooms.
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Scientists have studied death cap fungi since the early 1700s, but an antidote has largely eluded them because “we know little about how fungal toxins kill cells,” Qiaoping Wang, a professor of pharmacology at Sun Yat-Sen University and one of the study’s lead authors told Insider.

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 hood’s toxin, alpha-amanitin.

To identify a potential antidote, Wang and his colleagues turned to the gene-editing tool CRISPR. They screened thousands of human genes and discovered that a promising type of enzyme called STT3B. In particular, cells lacking this STT3B survived when the researchers poisoned them with alpha-amanitin.

But disabling 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 hood victims, the researchers took the further step of testing different chemicals and their impact on STT3B.

They found a promising candidate in the chemical indocyanine green. “ICG is a potential STT3B inhibitor that can prevent AMA-induced cell death,” they reported in the study.

Will the antidote work for humans?

Scientists plan to test the ICG antidote on poisoned humans next, but when that will happen is unclear.
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ICG is a dye currently used to diagnose liver and heart activity and check for abnormalities in blood vessels, tissues and lymph nodes. When the researchers tested ICG in mice poisoned with the death cap mushroom toxin, the results were eye-opening.

“ICG has shown significant potential to mitigate the toxic effect of alpha-amanitin in liver cells and mice,” Wang said.

About 50% of the mice that received the ICG antidote survived the toxin. Furthermore, no side effects were observed in mice as a result of the treatment.

Of course, further research is needed to determine any therapeutic benefits in humans.

“To this end, the research team intends to conduct human trials to assess ICG’s effectiveness in individuals who have recently consumed poisonous mushrooms,” Wang told Insider. “These tests will provide more definitive results and provide a clearer picture of ICG’s potential to revolutionize the treatment of mushroom poisoning,” Wang said.


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