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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.
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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.
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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.
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Its ability to kill cancer cells from within lets artemisinin selectively kill cancer cells while keeping normal cells untouched and unharmed. This gives scientists hope that it could someday be used as a safe drug to battle all kinds of cancer. Human cells have already been used with positive effects, which makes scientists and researchers optimistic about a wider scope of human usage.
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The Medical News: Artemisinin Could Selectively Kill Cancer Cells While Leaving Normal Cells Unharmed - http://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/02/09/7694.aspx
Pubmed.gov: Artemisinin Blocks Prostate Cancer Growth ... - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19017637
Breast Cancer Research: Artemisinin Disrupts Estrogen Receptor-Alpha and Cell Growth - http://www.cbcrp.org/research/PageGrant.asp?grant_id=4768
nejm.org: Artemisinin Resistance in Plasmodium falciparum Malaria - http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa0808859
Townsendletter.com: Artemisinin: From Malaria to Cancer Treatment - http://www.townsendletter.com/Dec2002/artemisinin1202.htm