University Nottingham logoResearchers from the University of Nottingham shed light on a drug called cordycepin that appears to have been originally extracted from a rare type of wild mushroom known as cordyceps. The experts suggest that the promising cancer drug could now be made more effective thanks to a better understanding of the drug’s function.

These new insights into the mushroom-derived drug, the researchers claim should bring in some hope for cancer treatment. The mushroom is claimed to be commonly used in Chinese medicine. Experts hint that they could now make it more effective as they seem to have uncovered how the drug works.

As part of the analysis, the researchers investigated the working of cordycepin extracted from cordyceps. It is presently prepared from a cultivated form.

Dr Cornelia de Moor of The University of Nottingham Dr de Moor who evaluated the drug mentions, “Our discovery will open up the possibility of investigating the range of different cancers that could be treated with cordycepin. We have also developed a very effective method that can be used to test new, more efficient or more stable versions of the drug in the Petri dish. This is a great advantage as it will allow us to rule out any non-runners before anyone considers testing them in animals.”

Apparently, cordyceps is a strange parasitic mushroom that grows on caterpillars. The properties linked to the mushroom in Chinese medicine appear to have made it interesting for further research. Analyzed for some time, the first scientific publication on cordycepin was claimed to be in 1950.

The hindrance supposedly was that cordycepin degraded pretty quickly in the body in spite being a promising drug. To help fight this, it may now be administered with another drug. However, the side effects of the second drug seem to limit its potential use.

Dr de Moor further mentioned, “Because of technical obstacles and people moving on to other subjects, it’s taken a long time to figure out exactly how cordycepin works on cells. With this knowledge, it will be possible to predict what types of cancers might be sensitive and what other cancer drugs it may effectively combine with. It could also lay the groundwork for the design of new cancer drugs that work on the same principle.”

As of now two effects seem to have been observed by the team. The first one is that a low dose cordycepin appears to inhibit the uncontrolled growth and division of the cells. The second effect is that at high doses it seems to stop cells from sticking together, which could also inhibit growth. The researchers are of the opinion that both these effects may probably be having a similar underlying mechanism. Mainly, it could be that cordycepin is interfering with how cells make proteins.

It was ascertained that at low doses cordycepin may be interfering with the production of mRNA. The latter is known to be the molecule that offers instructions on the assembly of a protein. Interestingly, at higher doses cordycepin could be having a direct impact on the making of proteins.

The research is to be published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.