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Ancient Chinese Salad Plant Yields Cancer-Killing Compound

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Researchers have used a traditional Chinese medicine to create a compound that is more than 1,200 times more specific in killing certain kinds of cancer cells than currently available drugs.

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The new compound is derived from artemisinin, which is made from the sweet wormwood plant (Artemisia annua L), an herb that has been used in Chinese medicine for at least 2,000 years, and is eaten in salads in some Asian countries.

The scientists attached a chemical homing device to artemisinin that targets the drug selectively to cancer cells, sparing healthy cells. “The compound is like a special agent planting a bomb inside the cell,” said chemistry professor Tomikazu Sasaki, who worked on developing the compound.

The compound Sasaki and his colleagues developed kills about 12,000 cancer cells for every healthy cell.

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