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Could the answer to tackling the pain of osteoarthritis be hiding in caterpillar fungus?

Published on 25 November 2016
Source: Arthritis Today
Arthritis Today Winter 2016, No 171

A caterpillar on a leafA mushroom found growing on a caterpillar might not sound like an obvious place to look for an exciting new treatment for the pain caused by osteoarthritis. However, scientists at The University of Nottingham are investigating if the compound cordycepin, found in parasitic fungi living on caterpillars, could be used as a painkiller for people with osteoarthritis.

Effective new treatments for osteoarthritis have the potential to transform the everyday lives of more than eight million people in the UK. That’s why this unique three-year long study has been funded by a £260,000 grant from Arthritis Research UK.

Preventing pain in early and advanced stages

The research team aims to discover whether cordycepin helps to prevent pain in both the early and the advanced stages of osteoarthritis, as well as to understand more about how and where in the body it's working to reduce pain. For example, the study will explore which cells are responding to cordycepin in the knee joint and in the nervous system.

Cordycepin, already in use as a popular traditional medicine in Asia, will be given in food to rats and mice, after a pilot study indicated it was as effective as conventional painkillers in these animals with osteoarthritis.

Existing research has established cordycepin blocks the inflammatory process that causes pain in osteoarthritis in a different way and at a different stage to existing treatments like steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Therefore, it could offer a viable alternative to patients who don't respond well to these medications. Researchers believe these differences also suggest it's likely to have fewer side-effects than the treatments currently available.

Principal investigator on the project Dr Cornelia de Moor says: "This study is the first step in the long-term development of a new class of drugs for osteoarthritis. To the best of our knowledge, cordycepin has never been tested as a lead compound for osteoarthritis pain. If we can prove its safety and effectiveness, clinical trials could begin within six to 10 years."

Read more about osteoarthritis.

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