Caterpillar 'shrooms may relieve arthritis pain

British researchers believe cordycepin mushrooms that grow on caterpillars, popular in Chinese medicine, may hold the key to a new, more effective type of arthritis drug.

In a “Through the Looking Glass”-to-the-microscope type of story, researchers are hoping a mushroom that grows on caterpillars may be the source of a new type of painkillers for people with osteoarthritis.

Backed by nearly $400,000 of funding from Arthritis Research UK, scientists at the University of Nottingham are exploring the painkilling potential of cordycepin, a compound found in cordycepin mushrooms. The parasitic mushrooms are widely used in Chinese medicine.

More than 52.5 million U.S. adults have arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The figure is expected to grow as our population ages. Current popular drugs for the disease, such as corticosteroids and non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) often have side effects. The cordycepin works to block the inflammation caused by arthritis in a totally different way, at a different stage in the process, than these drugs. Researchers believe the cordycepin is likely to have more benefits and fewer side effects, according to a release from the University of Nottingham. The research was noted on

"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," lead researcher Dr. Cordelia de Moor said in the release. "But we were stunned by the response from the pilot study, which showed that it was as effective as conventional painkillers in rats.

"This study is the first step in a potential drug development for a new class of drugs for osteoarthritis, although there are a number of hurdles we have to go through -- necessarily so -- before it gets nearer patients,” she said. “To the best of our knowledge, cordycepin has never been tested as a lead compound for osteoarthritis pain."

If it works, clinical trials could begin within six to ten years. 

Other NSAID alternatives, such as DHA, boswellia and curcumin, are also drawing attention as powerful tools to fight inflammation and the resulting pain.

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