It is possible that many of you are familiar with the Cordyceps mushroom, especially if you have played The Last of Us. We are talking about that fungus that parasitizes insects and uses them for food. Although the best known is the one that infects ants, the truth is that there are about 400 different species. And one of them, the Ophiocordyceps sinensis, it seems that it will be revolutionary for cancer treatments. The most curious thing of all? That in traditional Chinese medicine has already been used for centuries.
Cordyceps mushroom, cancer medicine
This Ophiocordyceps sinensis is a moth larval parasite. It is responsible for parasitizing them to feed on them, until they grow inside. By the time the stem of this fungus breaks through the head of the insect, the caterpillar has no choice but to turn into a mummy. It is popularly known as “caterpillar fungus”, although in Tibet it is baptized as Yatsa Gunbu (summer grass, winter caterpillar), as pointed out from Gizmodo.
Despite this unpleasant process, the truth is that Ophiocordyceps sinensis secretes a substance called cordycepina. An ingredient that traditional Chinese medicine has tried to make powders, which have all kinds of applications: it can be used to fight fatigue or to increase sexual desire. In its natural state, yes, it is toxic due to its high levels of arsenic.
The caterpillar fungus, a cure for cancer
Since the modern scientific world, cordycepin is known also as 3′-deoxyadenosine (the 3′-dA): as reported from ScienceAlert, it is a naturally occurring nucleicide analog that has anticancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Not surprisingly, they point out, Ophiocordyceps sinensis is known for being “the most valuable mushroom in the world.”
This finding has led to the creation of the NUC-7738, a new type of chemotherapy whose central nucleus is cordyzepine. It has been synthesized by the University of Oxford in collaboration with the biopharmaceutical company NuCana, also based in the United Kingdom. It is currently in its early experimental stages, and is not yet available as an anticancer drug. However, his clinical trials portend a bright future for this drug.
NUC-7738, the chemotherapy of the future
These first clinical trials began in 2019 with a group of patients. These volunteers had tumors that resist the usual treatments, but with NUC-7738 they managed to stabilize the disease and even the cancer to go into remission. The next step in this process, before its use spreads to hospitals, is to study its best use and dosage.