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High dose of oxygen enhances natural cancer treatment

A technique Michael Jackson reportedly used to prolong his youth is showing promise as a way to boost the effectiveness of a natural cancer remedy.

An environment of pure oxygen at three-and-a-half times normal air pressure adds significantly to the effectiveness of a natural compound already shown to kill cancerous cells, researchers at the University of Washington and Washington State University recently reported in the journal Anticancer Research.

The compound artemisinin isolated from Artemisia annua L, commonly known as wormwood is a natural remedy widely used to treat malaria. In the mid-1990s UW researchers were the first to explore its ability to treat cancer.

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 UW research professor of bioengineering. "We only measured up to 48 hours. Over longer time periods we expect the synergistic effects to be even more dramatic."

The history of artemisinin brings to mind an Indiana Jones story. In the early 1970s, Lai says, Chinese leader Mao Zedong issued an order to develop an anti-malarial treatment. At the same time, a farmer in central China discovered a 2,000-year-old tomb that contained three coffins. One coffin contained a silk scroll describing various prescriptions, including artemisinin to treat malaria. The Chinese followed the directions and thus rediscovered an ancient remedy.

Today, artemisinin is widely used in Asia and Africa for malaria treatment.

In the decades since, scientists have discovered artemisinin reacts with iron within a cell to form a free radical, a highly reactive charged particle that destroys

Contact: Hannah Hickey
University of Washington

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