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Scientists uncover cancer fighting power of cordyceps mushroom

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers from the University of Nottingham have unraveled how the cordyceps mushroom could be developed to fight cancer. The mushroom is commonly used in Chinese medicine. Understanding how the Chinese mushroom works has made it possible for scientists to continue developing the mushroom along with other drugs to fight cancer.

According to Dr Cornelia de Moor of The University of Nottingham, "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."

The cordyceps mushroom that now shows much promise for development of cancer fighting drugs grows on caterpillar eggs. The remedy used in China for centuries is a parasite. Dr. Cornelia de Moor explains that it has taken a long time to discover how cordyceps works on cells “Because of technical obstacles and people moving on to other subjects..." The discovery of the cancer fighting power of the cordyceps mushroom may also provide some groundwork for developing drugs that work on the same principle as the mushroom.

The researchers found that cordyceps has two effects on cells, at low doses and at high doses, both of which inhibit cancer cell growth. At low doses the mushroom inhibits cell division and growth, and at higher doses, cells are prevented from sticking together, also inhibiting growth. In each case, cordyceps likely exerts cancer fighting properties because the mushroom interferes with the production of mRNA that regulates protein production in cells.

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The researchers for the current study explain, "In fact, the first scientific publication on cordycepin was in 1950. The problem was that although cordycepin was a promising drug, it was quickly degraded in the body. It can now be given with another drug to help combat this, but the side effects of the second drug are a limit to its potential use."

The new findings, showing how the cordyceps mushroom works to inhibit cell growth, makes it possible to develop cancer fighting drugs from the mushroom, and potentially others that work on the same principle. The scientists say now "it will be possible to predict what types of cancers might be sensitive and what other cancer drugs it may effectively combine with." The cordyceps mushroom from past studies, was found to possibly destroy tumor cells by down-regulating MHC class II antigen expression (1) – protein containing molecules that play an important role in immunity and inflammation. Inflammation and bacteria are thought to play an important role in the development and spread of certain types of cancer.


(1) Chiu JH, et al. Cordyceps sinensis increases the expression of major histocompatibility complex class II antigens in human hepatoma cell line HA22T/VGH cells. Am J Chin Med 1998;26:59-70.