Caterpillars hold key to arthritis cure

A substance from a fungus that infects caterpillars could offer new treatment hope for sufferers of osteoarthritis, according to new research.

Cordycepin is an active compound isolated from the caterpillar fungus Cordyceps militaris and has proved to be effective in treating osteoarthritis by blocking inflammation in a new way, through reducing a process called polyadenylation.

Study leader Dr Cornelia De Moor from the University of Nottingham said: “The natural compound cordycepin is derived from a caterpillar fungus which is famous in the Far East for its medicinal properties.

“In this paper we show that orally administrated cordycepin reduces pain and halts disease progression in animal models of osteoarthritis.

“Intriguingly, it does this by a different mechanism than any other known anti-inflammatory painkiller, through affecting the last step of making a messenger RNA, polyadenylation.

“This means that medicines derived from cordycepin may help patients for whom other treatments have failed. We hope that cordycepin will prove to be the founder of a new class of painkiller, the polyadenylation inhibitors.

“There is a long way to go before a cordycepin derived medicine reaches patients, but our work is very promising we are very excited about the prospects.”

Reducing pain and damage
Osteoarthritis is a common chronic age-related joint disease, with approximately a third of people over the age of 45 seeking treatment for the disease.

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes flaky and rough and small pieces break off to form loose bodies in the fluid that lubricates the joint called synovial fluid. This causes irritation and inflammation of the synovial membrane. The loss of cartilage leaves bones unprotected and vulnerable to damage.

Cordycepin treatment reduced pain behaviour and structural damage in rats and mice with osteoarthritis, supporting a role of polyadenylation in osteoarthritis progression, inflammatory gene expression and pain.

Possible new treatment options
Treatment options for this painful and debilitating disease are largely limited to lifestyle changes and reducing pain with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDS] or opioids which have limited efficacy and come with problematic side effects. As a result, joint replacement surgery is a common outcome.

The results from this new research could lead to a more effective treatment for osteoarthritis sufferers that is less toxic, so will have reduced side effects for patients.

“Although in its early stages, the study has great potential for helping people suffering (from the) pain of musculoskeletal conditions and demonstrates the high value and impact of novel discovery-led research on understanding and treating diseases,” said Dr Stephen Simpson.

Do you suffer from osteoarthritis? Do any of the pain treatments work for you? Are you excited by this new development?

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Written by Ben Hocking

Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.

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