Could a Chinese fungus provide a crucial missing link to new cancer treatments? Scientists have struggled for decades with one major drawback of the Cordyceps, a parasitic mushroom — but now they may have cracked the riddle.

Cordyceps are parasitic mushrooms grow that on insects-often caterpillars-attack the host and replace its tissue. In some cases, the mushroom alters the behavior of the host, so that when the body dies, the spores can easily spread.


Cordyceps are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and has been investigated in western medicine since the 50s. The problem? They degrade too quickly in the body, limiting their effectiveness. Drugs gathered from coryceps were shown to inhibit the growth and division of cells at low doses — and at high doses, the drug stops cells from sticking together, both invaluable effects to help prevent the spread of cancers.

Now, researchers at Nottingham University have discovered a way to pair Cordycepin with other drugs to substantially increase its lifespan in the body. That gives us the opportunity to understand which cancer types it will target effectively, and how to create other drugs that function similarly.


[via Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council]