Novel methods to authenticate Chinese medicines

Chinese medicines
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Scientists based in Hong Kong have invented a new method of authenticating Cordyceps sinensis, a fungus that grows inside moth larvae and is often used as medicine in China.

A medical research team at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) has identified a unique polysaccharide marker from the caterpillar part of Cordyceps sinensis, and successfully applied it to the qualitative and quantitative authentication of this valuable Chinese herbal medicine. This novel, low-cost method can authenticate Cordyceps sinensis in an hour.

A Chinese medicine research team led by Dr Han Quanbin, Associate Professor of the School of Chinese Medicine at HKBU, has developed a polysaccharide marker authentication method for the qualitative and quantitative authentication of Cordyceps sinensis. Dr Peng Bo, Lecturer I of the Clinical Division of the School of Chinese Medicine at HKBU, said that Cordyceps sinensis has high medicinal value.

Cordyceps sinensis, commonly known as “caterpillar fungus”, belongs to Clavicipitaceae, a family of fungi. It grows inside the larvae of ghost moths and is the dry insect-fungi complex of the larval carcass. As a precious Chinese herbal medicine, Cordyceps sinensis is rich in chemical ingredients that are believed to be useful in disease prevention, the treatment of cancers, and as an anti-ageing agent and booster for the immune system.

Adulteration of Cordyceps sinensis is common in the market. Traditional authenticity checks of Cordyceps sinensis mainly rely on experts to identify its shape and colour. Genetic and microscopic identification techniques can also be used. However, genetic identification is expensive, whereas microscopic identification requires strict professional training. Furthermore, some chemical methods cannot effectively distinguish Cordyceps sinensis from other adulterants.

A Chinese medicine research team led by Dr Han Quanbin, Associate Professor of the School of Chinese Medicine at HKBU, conducted a study to compare the polysaccharides that exist in Cordyceps sinensis with those found in fake adulterants. A unique polysaccharide marker, which is classified as 1,4-α-glucan, was found only in the caterpillar part of Cordyceps sinensis, and not in the samples of fake adulterants.

Having identified the polysaccharide marker, the team used it to develop a novel rapid testing method based on the commonly used HPLC (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) instrument. The new method can identify the quantity of the unique polysaccharide marker in Cordyceps sinensis, which is associated with the quality grade of Cordyceps samples.

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