A parasitic mushroom that lives on caterpillars is under investigation as a possible treatment for osteoarthritis.
Scientists at the University of Nottingham are exploring the potential uses of cordycepin, a compound found in cordyceps mushrooms that is wiidely used in Chinese traditional medicine.
Cornelia de Moor and her team have a three-year grant of £260,000 from Arthritis Research UK to investigate whether cordycepin, given as food pellets to rats and mice, can prevent pain occurring after an injury to a joint, and also whether it relieves existing pain.
De Moor said in a press release that although their research was in its early stages, they were excited about cordycepin’s prospects as a completely new type of painkiller.
“When we first started investigating this compound it was frankly a bit of a long-shot and there was much skepticism from the scientific community,” she said. “But we were stunned by the response from the pilot study, which showed that it was as effective as conventional painkillers in rats.
Provided the safety and effectiveness of the compound could be proven, clinical trials could begin within six to ten years.
Cordycepin blocks the inflammatory process that cause pain in osteoarthritis, but does so in a completely different way and at a different stage in the process to existing painkillers such as corticosteroids and non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.
The researchers will investigate whether cordycepin acts on the knee joint or on the nerves that relay painful messages from the knee to the spinal cord, and the mechanism by which cordycepin inhibits pain.
Officials are, however, warning against people starting to self-medicate with cordyceps until more is known about the compound.