A Chinese herb known as Artemisinin has the potential to destroy cancer cells by releasing two oxygen molecules and unleashing free radicals, which destroy the cell.

Artemisinin is an herb that is a type of wormwood and is a standard treatment for the most dangerous kind of malaria in the world,Plasmodium falciparum malaria.

Artemisinin is drawn to cells with iron in them and cancer cells also absorb large amounts of iron (sometimes 15x-1000x more iron than standard cells).  According to Henry Lai, a researcher at the University of Washington, “artemisinin is about 100 times more selective in killing cancer cells as opposed to normal cells. Artemisinin is 34,000 times more potent in killing the cancer cells as opposed to their normal cousins.”

The scientific abstract reads:

“Artemisinin reacts with iron to form free radicals that kill cells. Since cancer cells uptake relatively larger amounts of iron than normal cells, they are more susceptible to the toxic effect of artemisinin. In previous research, we have shown that artemisinin is more drawn to cancer cells than to normal cells. In the present research, we covalently attached artemisinin to the iron-carying plasma glycoprotein transferrin.Transferrin is transported into the cells via receptor-mediated endocytosis and cancer cells express significantly more transferrin receptors on their cell surface and endocytose more transferrin than normal cells. Thus, we hypothesize that by tagging artemisinin to transferrin, both iron and artemisinin would be transported into cancer cells in one package. Once inside a cell, iron is released and can readily react with artemisinin close by tagged to the transferrin. This would enhance the toxicity and selectivity of artemisinin towards cancer cells. We found that holotransferrin-tagged artemisinin, when compared with artemisinin, was very potent and selective in killing cancer cells. Thus, this ‘tagged-compound’ could potentially be developed into an effective chemotherapeutic agent for cancer treatment.”


Ateminisin is available and safe to use.  It is not currently an FDA approved method of treating cancer, but human studies are not far off.




Image Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemisia_%28genus%29