Artemisinin and its significant potential in oncology

Artemisnin is derived from the sweet wormwood extract and so far it was found that it is excellent treating malaria, including the highly resistant strains of this parasite. Its effectiveness was also noted with some parasitic infections such as schistosomiasis. Sweet wormwood has demonstrated the significant impact and broad specter of performances with cancerous diseases and tests were performed on animals and humans. In many ways and from different angles the progress in defining the role of artemisinin in medicine was observed, with a special focus on its mechanisms and ways of action. This safe and inexpensive drug that is saving the lives of people infected with malaria can also have significant potential in oncology.


Truly exceptional is the story of the discovery of sweet wormwood and its active ingredient artemisinin by Chinese scientists, which is considered one of the greatest medical discoveries in the second half of the 20th century. This project is called 523, and on this occasion they discovered dihydroartemisinin, artemether, artelic acid or genetically known as artemisinin which is now making an incredible progress in treating malaria. Malaria is so widespread that every year we have about 500 million new cases. This medicine is by many features different from classic quinoline anti-malaria medicines and it is extremely effective when combined with them.

The structure of artemisinin derivative of sweet wormwood:

(A) Artemisinin was isolated in crystal in 1973 from the plant artemisia annua or sweet wormwood, (B) dihydroartemisinin (c) arthemer, (D) artesunate (F) arter were for the first time found by Chinese scientists in 1970. (E) Artemision a representative of new class of artemisinin known as amino-artemisinin. Its characteristics include low toxicity. (G) Artelinat was being prepared as a product in Walter’s Red Army Research Institute, but it was rejected and the study was discontinued due to its high toxicity. (H) Deoxiartemisinin. Artemisinin is the subject of many studies aimed at researching and improving this class of medicines. Artemisinins are active against other parasitic species, including protozoa which are fiogenetic type of parasites which are related to plasomodium parasites which cause malaria. Artemisnin derivative of sweet wormwood also acts against metazoan parasite Schistosoma. Their beneficial effect also includes a powerful anticancer activity. Many reports from medical studies show artemisinin as an anti-cancer agent. Recently published clinical study about patients with lung cancer showed that even during the short-term use of this low-cost product there are valid reasons for this drug to be included as a part of therapy against cancer.

Use of artemisinin for treating malaria

The use of artesunate semi-synthetic derivative of the sweet wormwood for treatment of a severe form of malaria is very prominent in the recent publications. Artesunate is very effective in comparison to quinine and has fewer side effects, and so far quinine is the only drug used for the treatment of malaria.

Mortality of the adults treated with artesunate is lower than with those with quinine. In a large scale intracatalic treatment was studied with adults and children with symptoms of malaria who are very remote from health institutions. Soon there will be new results of these studies. Security and efficiency are very important in these studies. But one child who was treated with very high doses of artesunate 88 mg / 1 kg as opposed to the permitted dose of 10-20 mg / 1kg, died during the treatment of toxicity of this drug. It should be noted that the artesunate is quite toxic in comparison to artemisnin, but it acts faster as well. It’s interesting that the oral artemether and DHA are commonly used in multi-dose formulations instead of artesunate. Artesunate may have positive characteristics, both in terms of stability and easiness of influence as compared to DHA, but also in negative effects on animals when compared with artemether. The new semi-synthetic artemisinin as Artemision is not only safe but also improves efficiency and has an improved effect against malaria models which developed resistance to artemisinin.

Anticancer properties of artemisinin – the sweet wormwood

Since the late 80s the properties of artemisinin in the fight against cancer were tested. After a detailed study, it was found that artemisnin is active against many tumor lines, including common types such as colon cancer, breast cancer, leukemia and pancreatic cancer. Studies have also identified the general mechanism with normalization of certain metabolic processes in the body caused by artemisinin. Other mechanisms of anti-cancer activities include inhibition of enhanced angiogenesis associated with tumor. Artemisinin inhibits the proliferation, migration and tube formation of human umbilical vein of endothelial cells, inhibits vascular endothelial growth factor. In cancer cells artemisinin reduces the expression of VEGF receptors and slows down the growth of human ovarian carcinoma.
It was also proved that with some cancerous diseases, delivering large quantities of iron increases the effectiveness of artemisinin. Should artemisinin remain one of the few compounds which has not been sufficiently researched even though it has interesting properties concerning therapy for cancerous diseases? Of course not, and there are many reasons why.
Firstly, artemisinin is inexpensive, safe, and easy to be taken orally as a bioavailable compound which acts selectively against many types of cancer. Animals were examined and it has been proven that artemisinin has antitumor activity and reduces the risk of developing liver metastases. In addition, clinical examinations of individual cases which were recently published in the study of lung cancer prove that artemisinin in this case has a special anti-tumor efficacy during the intervention, and this is particularly pronounced for colorectal cancer and leukemia.
Dr. Michael Lam has written a very good article about the research of sweet wormwood and its use in medicine for more information about their research you can found here.

Other potentially useful properties of artemisinin and its compounds

In new studies in several groups it was discovered that artemisinin has antiviral properties as well. Artemisinin reduces the rate of replication of hepatitis B and hepatitis C, herpes, HIV-1, influenza A virus, and bovine viral diarrhea virus. Artemisinin is also effective in reducing human herpes virus 5 while using 300 mg per day orally for 30 days. Artemisinin has also some antifungal properties against pneumocystis carinii. There are several more positive effects on diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, renal syndrome, pencreatitis.
Artemisnin is strongly confirmed as a remedy for malarial disease in combined therapies. Its great potential now lies with diseases which are a challenge for whole humanity such as many cancerous diseases for which, currently, only effective treatments are extremely expensive.

The questions are of course dosing regimen, the safety of long-term use and the possibility of indication with combined therapies. These are the issues that need to be urgently examined in clinical studies, for the medicine of past and the future called artemisinin.

More about the use of artemisinin and methods of treating cancerous diseases you can read here.

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