UK experts are developing the world's first clinical trial to test the plant's effectiveness against ovarian cancer.
Could a plant used to treat malaria hold the key to treating many types of cancer and be a substitute crop for Kentucky farmers? UK Markey Cancer Center researchers think the answer may be 'yes'.

A trial at Markey will test the effectiveness of Artemisia annua against ovarian cancer and determine the recommended dose for any future trials.

Artemisia annua, commonly known as Sweet Wormwood or “Sweet Annie”, is used to treat fever in traditional Chinese medicine. The plant looks like a garden herb and has a sweet, minty odor. In the 1970s, Chinese scientist Tu Youyou extracted a malaria-fighting compound called artemisinin from the plant. The malaria drug artesunate was developed from the compound and is a first-line treatment for the disease. Tu won a 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery.

Ovarian Cancer Clinical Trial

Now UK researchers believe this plant holds even more promise. DNA damage occurs in all cells, but normal cells, on the other hand, are able to stop growing and repair their damage. Cancer cells keep growing and don't repair DNA.

They continue to transmit DNA damage to make other cancer cells. In laboratory tests, Artemisia annua appeared to stop the growth of cancer cells and allow the cells to repair their DNA damage, said Dr Jill Kolesar, a professor at the UK College of Pharmacy and managing director of the Precision Medicine Clinic of Markey.

These findings led Kolesar and Markey gynecological oncologist Dr. Frederick Ueland to develop the world's first clinical trial to test Artemisia annua in women with ovarian cancer.

The study will follow women who have completed chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. During this period, doctors often stop treatment and monitor patients for the return of the cancer. Study participants will receive multiple doses of the plant in tea or decaffeinated coffee supplements to determine the correct dose and tolerability. Once researchers find the correct dose, they will move on to a comparative study.