Artemisinin is a substance derived from the leaves of a sweet wormwood plant known as Artemisia annua. It is mostly used as a standard drug to combat malaria caused by the different strains of Plasmodium. It is sometimes modified chemically to be combined with other types of medication. There is however, a reduction in its effectiveness in some endemic regions as some studies have found. Aside from malaria treatment, artemisinin is also considered as an anti-cancer drug. And there are several studies being done evaluating the role of artemisinin for cancer treatment.
There are two semisynthetic derivatives of artemisinin, namely artesunate and artemether. Artesunate is the derivative which is water soluble. Artemether is the one which is lipid soluble, and is used to treat cerebral malaria.
It is said that artemisinin has long been used in China and Vietnam as an anti-cancer treatment. Because of this, researches are exploring its potential in the treatment of many forms of cancer.
In one such research, scientists from the University of California, found that artemisinin can stop the proliferation or multiplication of prostate cancer
cells by arresting the cell cycle at a certain point.
Researchers, also from the University of California, also looked into the effect of artemisinin on breast cancer cells. They found that artemisinin also caused an arrest at a certain point in the cell cycle of the cancer cells, thus disrupting the responsiveness of cancer cells to the hormone estrogen.
In another study, scientists from the University of Washington also revealed that artemisinin is capable of selectively killing cancer cells without harming the normal cells. They performed their study by exposing leukemia cells and white blood cells to the artemisinin compound, and they observed that the leukemia cells quickly died, leaving the white blood cells without any harm.
Effects of Artemisinin in Cancer Patients
There are some prostate cancer and breast cancer cases which showed some positive response after treatment with artemisinin. The cancer patients who did not experience positive effects from taking artemisinin are those who are already at the very advanced stages of cancer or those who are already near death. Scientists involved in these studies further said that many cancer patients who have tried artemisinin for cancer treatment have seen their situation improved and stabilized.