>From The Oregonian, Nov 28, 2001 p C12
Researchers find cancer hope in wormwood
An herb mentioned in ancient Chinese texts helps fight malaria and
kills cancer cells in the lab
By RICHARD L. HILL, The Oregonian
An ancient Chinese folk medicine that's effective against malaria
also might be a potent cancer-fighting candidate, scientists at the
University of Washington say.
Henry Lai and Narendra Singh, research professors in UW's
bioengineering department, have found that a compound - artemisinin -
in a plant called sweet wormwood kills breast-cancer cells in the
laboratory. Lai and Singh report in the current issue of Life Sciences
that the chemical killed three-quarters of breast-cancer cells in
eight hours and all of them in 16 hours.
"The compound appears to be extremely toxic to cancer cells but had
little impact on normal cells," said Lai, who also has found the
chemical to be effective in killing leukemia cells. "In addition, it's
been shown to be safe because about 1 or 2 million malaria patients
have taken it."
Lai said more rigorous research is needed, with the next step being
tests conducted with animals. In a study he conducted a few years ago,
a dog with severe bone cancer recovered in about 10 days after being
treated with artemisinin.
"The dog was unable to walk and was in severe pain when we first saw
him," Lai said. "But after starting the treatment, he was able to
Artemisinin is derived from sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua. The
plant is mentioned in "Recipes for 52 Kinds of Diseases," a medical
text found in a Chinese tomb that dates to 168 B.C. Researchers in
China 40 years ago found that the compound was effective in treating
Lai became interested in artemisinin when conducting research on both
malaria and cancer. The chemical helps control malaria because it
reacts with the high iron concentrations in the malaria parasite and
produces charged atoms known as free radicals. The free radicals kill
"From doing cancer research, we know that cancer cells also have much
more iron inside them than normal cells," Lai said. "Cancer cells need
a lot of iron to make DNA, so they pump in a lot of iron during the
proliferation process. The more aggressive the cancer, the more iron
the cells take in, which makes them more responsive to the drug
The UW has patented Lai's concept of targeting cancer cells with
artemisinin. He received a grant from the Breast Cancer Fund in San
Francisco to conduct the study.
Comment by poster: the species epithet Artemesia _annua_ suggests an
annual herb. But one must wonder about other memters of Artemesia as
well. Many western US native americans consider Artemesia tridentata
(Big sagebrush) to be medicinal as well, although it is more of an
aromatherapy usage than ingested, I believe.
Posted as a courtesy only (since I am not a physician)
Daniel B. Wheeler