Could Wormwood be the Cure for Cancer?


| Arts Extra Special


Could Wormwood be the Cure for Cancer?

Researchers at the University of Washington may have discovered a nontoxic treatment to combat breast cancer and leukemia through their investigation of the herb wormwood, reports the Environmental News Network. Bioengineering research professors Henry Lai and Narendra Singh were studying an ancient Chinese remedy for malaria that used wormwood when Lai hypothesized it might work with cancer as well.

That was seven years ago. Now, a study in the latest issue of Life Sciences describes how a derivative within the plant -- called artemisinin -- killed virtually all human breast cancer cells exposed to it within 16 hours. The reason for its success lies in cancer cells' use of iron for reproduction. 'Cancer cells have much higher iron concentrations than normal cells,' Lai said. 'When we began to understand how artemisinin worked, I started wondering if we could use that knowledge to target cancer cells.'

After pumping the cancer cells with maximum amounts of iron, Lai and Singh introduced artemisinin to selectively kill the cancer cells. Since their study succeeded, the researchers' next step will be animal testing. While limited tests have been done in the area (one study of a dog with crippling bone cancer made a complete recovery in five days), more rigorous testing is needed.

Wormwood's utility is nothing new, according to the Environmental News Network, which reports that the bitter herb has been used for centuries to rid the body of worms and also as an ingredient in the alcoholic beverage absinthe. Ancient Chinese treatments using wormwood were lost over time until the 1970s, when recipes were unearthed during an archeological dig. 'The fascinating thing is that this was something the Chinese used thousands of years ago,' Lai said. 'We simply found a different application.'
--Kate Garsombke
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