Is Devil’s Claw the Answer?

UMKC and MU study of herbal osteoarthritis remedy receives NIH funding

Devil's Claw
Devil’s Claw, Photo provided by provided by Ulrich Feiter

A collaborative group of researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), the University of Missouri (MU) in Columbia, and the International Clinical Research Institute in Overland Park, have received a $412,000 grant to explore the effectiveness of the dietary supplement Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) in treating early stage joint osteoarthritis. The two-year grant comes from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, an arm of the National Institutes of Health. If the results are positive, additional support will be provided for additional studies.

Mary Gerkovich, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical and health informatics at the UMKC School of Medicine, and Bill Folk, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry at MU, are leading the effort to gather scientific data for the mechanism by which Devil’s Claw reduces inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.

Botanical products containing Devil’s Claw, a plant found in southern Africa, have been sold and used as a remedy for arthritis, muscle pains and other various skin conditions and ailments for centuries. While many studies indicate some of these products do reduce pain and improve the physical function, data that indicates the active ingredient and verifies the effectiveness and safety in reducing inflammation are currently lacking.

Also, herbal products are not subject to the same scrutiny and quality controls as FDA approved pharmaceuticals, so there is need to further study to validate their true effectiveness and safety.

The goal of the study is to collect data to support further testing and development of Devil’s Claw products as a reliable treatment for osteoarthritis. It will also ensure that future clinical trials can be conducted with the methodology and outcome measures necessary to properly evaluate their effectiveness.

The researchers will be using a series of studies to obtain data. If successful, the study will be extended for additional years to gather further data on Devil’s Claw products as a reliable treatment for osteoarthritis.

Co-investigators are Margaret Gibson, M.D., associate professor of community and family medicine, and An-Lin Cheng, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical and health informatics at UMKC; Alan Parrish, Ph.D., associate professor of medical pharmacology/physiology, Aaron Stoker, Ph.D., associate research professor, and Jimi Cook, Ph.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery, at MU; and Srinivas Nalamachu, M.D., at the International Clinical Research Institute.

Osteoarthritis can be extremely debilitating for those who suffer the disease. The burden is further expressed in financial and emotional terms as well as the loss of physical function.

Gerkovich and Folk view this study as an example of the collaborative research efforts that should be promoted by the UM System’s Interdisciplinary Intercampus research program.