Anticancer Effect of AntiMalarial Artemisinin Compounds

Author(s): Das AK*

The anti‑malarial drug artemisinin has shown anticancer activity in vitro and animal experiments, but experience in human cancer is scarce. However, the ability of artemisinins to kill cancer cells through a variety of molecular mechanisms has been explored. A PubMed search of about 127 papers on anti‑cancer effects of antimalarials has revealed that this class of drug, including other antimalarials, have several biological characteristics that include anticancer properties. Experimental evidences suggest that artemisinin compounds may be a therapeutic alternative in highly aggressive cancers with rapid dissemination, without developing drug resistance. They also exhibit synergism with other anticancer drugs with no increased toxicity toward normal cells. It has been found that semisynthetic artemisinin derivatives have much higher antitumor activity than their monomeric counterparts via mechanisms like apoptosis, arrest of cell cycle at G0/G1, and oxidative stress. The exact mechanism of activation and molecular basis of these anticancer effects are not fully elucidated. Artemisinins seem to regulate key factors such as nuclear factor‑kappa B, survivin, NOXA, hypoxia‑inducible factor‑1α, and BMI‑1, involving multiple pathways that may affect drug response, drug interactions, drug resistance, and associated parameters upon normal cells. Newer synthetic artemisinins have been developed showing substantial antineoplastic activity, but there is still limited information regarding the mode of action of these synthetic compounds. In view of the emerging data, specific interactions with established chemotherapy need to be further investigated in different cancer cells and their phenotypes and validated further using different semisynthetic and synthetic artemisinin derivatives.


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