Chronic pain sufferers the world over may be in for some new hope of a new miracle plant rooted in Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine has always been a bit of a mystery with western medicine, until Chinese researchers started isolating and studying ancient cures as part of the herbalome project. The project was started in 2008 and consists of researchers cataloging all the active ingredients contained in ancient and traditional Chinese medicines. Those researchers have recently found a natural compound able to alleviate three different pain types in lab mice.
The Chinese study was published recently in the journal Current Biology. The paper included the discovery that mice do not build up any resistance to the compound, which is naturally occurring. This finding suggests that the compound is a prime candidate for a new pain relief medication that can be used for long term chronic pain management in humans.
The compound is a chemical that is found in the Corydalis plant’s underground tubers. This pain relief chemical is known as dehydrocorybulbine or DHCB.
The Corydalis plant is a member of the same family as the poppy plant. It’s a native plant that grows mainly around the central eastern part of China and it’s been used in Chinese medicine for many centuries. It was prescribed by Chinese medical doctors to treat back pain and headaches.
The tubers of the Corydalis plant are first dug out of the soil and ground into a pulp. The pulp is then boiled in vinegar to turn the compound into a medication that could be used as a chronic pain reliever.
UC Irvine pharmacologist, Olivier Civelli, is one of the study’s authors and he says that this medicine goes back into history thousands of years and the reason it is still used is because it works. What Civelli really wants to know is what actually makes it work as there are many compounds that exist in the plant.
To conduct this study of the new miracle plant Civelli worked with the research leader of the herbalome project, Xinmiao Liang, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Dalian, northeast China. Liang and the research group extracted more than 80 chemicals from the Corydalis plant and sent them to Civelli’s Irvine lab for testing. All the samples were then tested to see which chemicals had properties that would relieve chronic pain.
The DHCB was found to be at least one of the chemicals that were effective as a pain reliever in lab mice. Further study showed that the chemical used the D2 dopamine receptors and not the morphine receptors.
Civelli said that the dopamine receptors are mostly associated with the brain’s pleasure center, so it was surprising to find them used in the DHCB tests. This was discovered by mice that had the D2 dopamine receptors removed when they did not experience any pain relief from the chemical.
The Civelli lab was able to synthesize the DHCB so they had enough chemical to run numerous tests. What the team found was that the DHCB worked on three types of pain. They found that DHCB worked on acute pain that one would experience by breaking their leg or receiving a skin burn. They also found the compound worked on inflammatory pain like arthritis and it worked on chronic pain that is often associated with nerve damage.
Civelli continues to study the new miracle plant’s compounds looking for other chemicals that could work in conjunction with the DHCB in relieving chronic pain. It’s also possible that some of the other compounds found in the Corydalis plant may benefit some other particular disease or disorder.
By Brent Matsalla