A combination of high dose of oxygen at three-and-a-half times normal air pressure and artemisinin proved to be effective in killing cancerous cells, reveals research.
The compound artemisinin - isolated from Artemisia annua L, commonly known as wormwood - is a natural remedy widely used to treat malaria.
In the new study, using artemisinin or high-pressure oxygen alone on a culture of human leukemia cells reduced the cancer cells' growth by 15 percent. Using them in combination reduced the cells' growth by 38 percent, a 50 percent increase in artemisinin's effectiveness.
"If you combine high-pressure oxygen with artemisinin you can get a much better curing effect," said author Henry Lai, a University of Washington professor of bioengineering. "We only measured up to 48 hours. Over longer time periods we expect the synergistic effects to be even more dramatic."
Lai and colleagues at the UW claim to have developed a variant several thousand times more potent than natural artemisinin, which was licensed in 2004 to a Chinese company.
"Artemisinin is a promising low-cost cancer treatment because it's specific, it's cheap and you don't have to inject it," Lai said. "It's 100 times more specific than traditional chemotherapy," he added. "In breast cancer, it's even better."
The study was recently reported in the journal Anticancer Research.