Thursday, August 13, 2015

Herbal Cancer Cure: Weeding out the Hype

A recent G+ post ( claimed that artemisinin, derived from an ancient Chinese herb Artemisia annua, kills 98% of lung cancer cells in less than 16 hours. What's wrong with this claim?

◈ The comments fell into two categories: some outright disbelief If this is factual, it'd be amazing and More pseudoscience, Geesh! More common were conspiracy theories from the predictable, The W.H.O., F.D.A., C.D.C., etc. Can't patent it, so they can't make money off of it. to the bizarre, Funny thing is that the government gets their money off of cancer so I wonder if they'll make this illegal and claim it's got a side-effect that makes people experience what they would if they used Marijuana. Idk, but the government's gonna F it up somehow. Let's examine the claims and counterclaims.

98% of cancer cells are killed by a culture dish! It's easy to kill cells in a dish -just ask my students :) These are in vitro findings. How about in vivo? Experiments done in rodents are indeed promising and have been reviewed and reported. Unfortunately, we scientists are excellent mouse doctors, and many drugs that cure cancer in mice under controlled, ideal lab conditions fail in the clinic. Does it work on humans? There are a few case reports of using artemisinin in humans. But, these are anecdotal and of limited use, since the patients were under chemotherapy anyway. What is needed are large scale randomized clinical trials with placebo controls to check if this herb is effective against cancers. Such trials cost a billion dollars and have not yet been done.

Artemisinin has been safely tested in over 4000 patients...this claim from a doctor in a popular video ( probably refers to a Phase I trial where only safety is monitored. Notice the doctor does not say if the herb was effective against cancer in these 4000 patients.

The FDA will never approve it....wrong, because it is already an FDA-approved antimalarial drug. In fact, artemisinin in combination with other drugs is the gold standard for treatment of Plasmodium falciparum malaria worldwide. The WHO has negotiated with Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis to obtain the drug at cost, with no profit.

Bottom line: Both sets of comments are off the mark! The potential of artemisinin as a cancer chemotherapeutic should not be dismissed as pseudoscience until proven otherwise. As for the conspiracy theorists, they're just wrong.

Wiki: #OpenAccess REF: Anticancer Effect of AntiMalarial Artemisinin Compounds. (2015) Das, AK
source: Rich Pollett

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