Artemisinin: the future weapon against cancer?

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Carlos Laforet Coll
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Artemisinin has already proved effective against malaria but today the main interest of research is focusing on the anticancer potential of this active ingredient extracted from the Artemisia plant.

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THEartemisinin is the active ingredient contained in mugwort, a plant known for millennia and used in particular by Traditional Chinese Medicine as a remedy for fever and gastrointestinal problems. In the past decades this plant has shown itself particularly effective also against malaria so much so that real drugs have been made that contain it but today the main interest of research is focusing on hers anticancer potential.

Some studies have shown the effectiveness of this extract. One of the most interesting research is undoubtedly the one conducted by Henry Lai and Narendra Singh at the University of Washington which showed how artemisinin manages to be effective against breast cancer by producing apoptosis (or death) of cancer cells very quickly.

"Not only does it appear to be effective, but it is also very selective - said Lai - It is highly toxic to cancer cells, but has a marginal impact on normal breast cells". This means that this substance would have the advantage of being able to act exclusively on "bad cells". The mechanism is the same with which malaria is controlled: the compound reacts with the high concentration of iron present in cancer cells who use it to replicate DNA and thus multiply.

Having ascertained this, Lai and Singh's idea was that of add iron to the administration of artemisinin, in this way the active principle can selectively attack the dangerous cells.

If you are interested in learning more about the topic HERE you can find it a list of studies done on artemisinin in recent years.

Ma what the experts think? Could these theories, currently only tested in vitro, lead to the development of anti-cancer or preventive therapies? In an interview with Panorama.com Marco Pierotti, of the National Cancer Institute of Milan he said: “These are interesting and grounded studies. Although at first glance one might think of one of those news to let go, there have been studies on it since 2001. Let's say that it can give positive effects where there is a high concentration of iron, a situation that occurs in some types of cancer (not all, however), to ensure the rapid reproduction of cancer cells, on which this herb is toxic ".
According to Pierotti, however we still need several studies and therefore several years to be able to really use this active ingredient in the fight against cancer. In fact, of the various studies concerning artemisinin that are collected on PuBMed, only a few concern experimentation against tumors and it seems that none have yet been carried out on humans. There is therefore still a long way to go and a lot to understand.



SIDE EFFECTS

Finally, there is another aspect to evaluate, and that is the possible side effects of this plant. If it is allergic to pollen it is not uncommon to encounter allergic phenomena of various kinds but possible unwelcome effects of this plant can also be vomiting and diarrhea with cramps. Therefore, it is usually never taken by those suffering from gastritis or ulcers. Absolutely banned even in pregnancy.



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