Feverfew—the common garden plant that combats migraine and arthritic pain—also contains a compound that kills leukaemia, usually considered a chronic and incurable cancer.
Scientists have isolated the compound, parthenolide, to kill chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) cells in the laboratory.
University of Birmingham researchers say they discovered a method of isolating the compound and modifying it to enhance its cancer-fighting qualities. Parthenolide increases the number of unstable molecules in cancer cells until they reach the point where they self-destruct.
Although feverfew is sold in health food shops, its anti-cancer abilities have been hit-and-miss, the researchers say. Their research makes feverfew more 'drug-like' in the way it can target CLL cells, they claim.
This isn't new; other researchers were doing the same thing in 2005. Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical School discovered that 18 hours of exposure to parthenolide was needed to kill off the leukaemia cells and it also left surrounding healthy cells alone. In other words, it doesn't have any toxic side effects.
Parthenolide was more effective than the standard leukaemia drug, cytarabine, the Rochester researchers also discovered. The drug was only 'modestly toxic' to the cancer cells, but 'highly toxic' to healthy cells, and so was doing more harm than good.