The antimalarial drug artemisinin in combination with photosensitive compounds can kill cancer cells and inhibit the growth of tumors.
The National University of Singapore scientists conducted a study which showed that combination therapy is more effective in eradicating cancer cells than using artemisinin as a monotherapy. Moreover, the therapy did not show a significant effect on non-cancer cells.
It should be added that the researchers also found a higher content of the heme – compound, responsible for the activation of artemisinin –, in cancer cells compared to non-cancerous cells.
Combination therapy includes artemisinin and photosensitive aminolevulinic acid, which triggers the generation of free radicals that can kill cancer cells under the light influence.
One NUS researcher said that such combination therapy could be safer than chemotherapy and radiation therapy. He added that this type of therapy could potentially be used to treat a wider range of cancers than targeted drugs, such as Herceptin, designed to treat HER2-positive breast cancer.