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A medicine 2,000 years old, made from wasp nests

Nidus Vespea is a substance derived from wasps traditionally used in Chinese medicine: now a group of Chinese scientists has conducted the first systematic study to investigate its therapeutic properties.

July 2014

A medicine 2,000 years old, made from wasp nests IMALab

Although innovation is usually understood as regarding new and unprecedented developments, it can also concern the investigation of how and why a drug two thousand years old may be used successfully today. Nidus Vespea (Wasp Nest) is a substance derived from wasps traditionally used in Chinese medicine: now a group of Chinese scientists has conducted the first systematic study to investigate its therapeutic properties.

Since insect-derived drugs form a crucial part of traditional Chinese medicine, it is important to consider the recent investigations and clinical processes concerning this particular medicine and share this information widely. Nidus Vespea is derived mainly from the nests of three different wasp species, all precisely indicated in Chinese Pharmacopeia. It can be used either alone or together with other drugs.  
The use of Nidus Vespea and its positive results were included in “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic” two thousand years ago.

The formation of a new Nidus Vespea nest is a process carried out by worker wasps via the amalgamation of “secreted oral fluid with plant fibers or wood pulps”.  For medicinal usage, the nests are gathered mainly in autumn and winter. The resulting raw materials may then be used either processed or unprocessed. But what exactly makes Nidus Vespea so powerful?

A team of Chinese scientists from the Yunnan Provincial Key Laboratory and the Dali University has carried out the first recorded systematic study of the properties of this substance, and has identified no less than 49 different chemical constituents. These include above all various oils, particularly hydrocarbons, fatty acids and esters (organic substances consisting of phenols and a carboxylic acid). And also proteins: peptides, acidic proteins (containing amino acids such as glycine, proline, aspartic acid and glutamic acid). They also found sterols (subgroup of steroids, the best-known animal sterol being cholesterol), and finally various trace elements, including iron, calcium, zinc, manganese and copper.

Nidus Vespea might be described as a kind of intense Yang drug which is used in the treatment of a wide range of different health problems. The main disorders commonly treated are skin diseases, tumors, dental problems and respiratory disorders. One of the skin diseases treated is psoriasis vulgaris, a common chronic dermatological disease which can cause physical pain and anxiety: after treatment with Nidus Vespea, skin lesions were reduced by 50% to 80%, and once the treatment was concluded the reoccurrence rate dropped to 21.6%.

The antitumor effect of Nidus Vespea may be considered as its most important area of interest for us today. Historically, traditional Chinese medicine has used this composition as an anticancer drug to cure carbuncles, ulcers and malignant sores. Today, however, it is also used to treat more serious sicknesses such as breast cancer, lung cancer, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. In the dental field it is employed against Periodontitis, a gum disease which can easily lead to tooth loss, and it is frequently mentioned that the insect-derived drug can have a positive effect in reducing the occurrence of caries. Moreover, Nidus Vespea has a reliably positive effect in treating respiratory diseases by relieving coughs and asthma: this is highly significant, since further investigation also revealed that this medicine is clearly efficacious in treating sinusitis.

From the information briefly mentioned here on Nidus Vespea and how effective it is in treating certain sicknesses, it can clearly be seen that this substance has a long history as well as a positive remedial action practically without any side-effects. This insect-derived drug has been widely used in China for more than 15 centuries, but now the time is ripe to consider its use on a global level. But considerable work has still to be done in terms of further investigation and research into the use of Nidus Vespea in clinical practice, which needs to be further validated with today’s modern techniques, through systematic and detailed studies based on the molecular level pharmacology of the diseases it cures.

 

References

Bin Wang, Cheng Gui Zhang, Peng Fei Gao, Xiu Mei Wu, Yu Zhao. Research progress on Nidus Vespae, A traditional Chinese medicine derived from insects.  J Pharm Sci Innov. 2013; 2(6):1-9. www.jpsionline.com