Medicinal plant ingredient kills cancer cells

Medicinal plant ingredient kills cancer cells

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Traditional medicinal plants are boosting cancer research

Feverfew is not only a popular garden plant, it has also been used as a medicinal plant for centuries. The herb has proven itself, for example, for pregnancy problems, fever, migraine attacks, indigestion and skin problems. The plant is also said to keep insects away and even drive parasites out of the intestine. But there is even more secret knowledge in Feverfew. A research team has now discovered an active ingredient in plants that kills cancer cells.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have discovered cancer-inhibiting properties in the medicinal and garden plant Tanacetum parthenium, which we commonly know as feverfew, false chamomile, ornamental chamomile or feverfew. The research team was able to extract a substance called parthenolide from the flowers of the plant, which killed cancer cells of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in the laboratory. The research results were presented in the specialist journal "MedChemComm".

Feverfew flowers enable mass production of cancer drugs

The active ingredient parthenolide has been classified as cancer-inhibiting in cancer research for several years. Due to the extremely expensive production, the active ingredient has so far not developed beyond basic research. The direct extraction from the feverfew blossoms could now change this fundamentally and give research a new boost, the scientists from Birmingham report.

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New feverfew cancer drugs

The research team not only showed how parthenolide can be obtained from the flowers, but they also developed a way of producing a number of compounds from the active ingredient that killed cancer cells in the laboratory. According to the researchers, these compounds can be used directly as active ingredients in medicines.

How does the feverfew active ingredient work?

According to the research team, the parthenolide compound works by increasing the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the cells. These unstable compounds are commonly known as free radicals. They are highly reactive and trigger oxidative stress in the cancer cells, which leads to cell death. Since cancer cells have an increased proportion of these radicals anyway, they are particularly susceptible to ROS.

Alternative to common treatments

The study was led by Dr. Angelo Agathanggelou, who was looking for new ways to fight leukemia. "There are several effective treatments for CLL, but after a while the disease becomes resistant in some patients," explains the expert. He and his team therefore wanted to learn more about the potential of parthenolides. The results surprised the team. The active ingredients from feverfew could actually offer an alternative treatment option for CLL patients.

From the flower bed to the clinic

"This research is important because we have not only shown a way to make parthenolides and made them more accessible for further study, but also because we have improved the drug properties to kill cancer cells," added Professor John Fossey from the study team . This is clear evidence that Parthenolide not only belongs in the flower bed, but also in the clinics.

Relatives could not convince

The plants for the study were supplied by the Winterbourne Botanical Gardens. The research team examined whether relatives from the daisy family (Asteraceae) can achieve similar results. "After experiments with related plant species within the Asteraceae family, it soon turned out that only feverfew gave the optimal values ​​for parthenolides," sums up Lee Hale, head of the botanical garden. Daisies, chamomiles, coneflowers and the like are not suitable for the production of parthenolides. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Stevenson, Brett / Fossey, John / Agathanggelou, Angelo / u.a .: Derivatisation of Parthenolide to Address Chemoresistant Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia, MedChemComm, 2019,
  • University of Birmingham: Hidden chemistry in flowers shown to kill cancer cells (access: 01.08.2019),

Video: Hope for Cancer Patients. Prof. Isa Marte. TEDxShehuri (November 2022).