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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Dog Cancer and the Malaria Drug Artemisinin

Updated: November 15th, 2019

There is a bit of excitement about Artemisinin in osteosarcoma (the most common bone cancer) care for dogs these days, so I thought I should give you some thoughts.

Artemisinin is used for malaria infections. It is derived from the sweet wormwood, which has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine for fever. Presumably things causing fevers (like malaria) would be killed by this herb.

Recently there is interest in artemisinin and related compounds for potential cancer care in dogs. This was started, I believe, in the late nineties due to some personal anecdotes and some science being done in Seattle by Drs Lai and Singh, at University of Washington. Discussion boards on Yahoo and the like spread the word.



It is likely that some of the initial anecdotes were from dog lovers owning dogs with osteosarcoma. This caused a stir in the osteosarcoma community, but the publications so far do not limit artemisinin’s effect to bone cancer cells. Other cancer cells have been evaluated, with some support. However, much of the evidence is from in vitro (test tube) studies, but there are some limited in vivo (in living bodies) data. More on this later.

The way this stuff is suspected to work is by oxidizing iron. Cancer cells take up more iron than normal body cells. The iron gets in through a protein channel called transferrin. The cancer cells have a higher requirement to sustain all the dividing they do.

Oxidized iron, in this form, is pretty reactive. The process turns the iron into a free radical, which reacts with parts of the cancer cell to cause injury. This is one way that artemisinin is supposed to work. Since normal body cells have much less iron, the are less affected by this damage.


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It also seems to have the ability to slow the development of the growth of new blood vessels around tumors. Tumors need to be fed because they have very high metabolic demands as they grow a lot. So they cause the body to grow new arteries and veins to feed themselves. This process is called angiogenesis.

Turns out there is pretty good evidence artemisinin slows this process by shutting down the genes that create the new blood vessels. Turn off the genes, turn of the process, less cancer food supply.

We’ll look a bit more at artemisinin in the next post.

Best,

Dr Dressler



 

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  2. bernadette on December 26, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Hello My 12 year old lab pit Linda was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on Oct 13 2014 after I noticed she was limping. The vet just sent me home with Toradal and 20 mg prednisone. After doing research I started her on Artenisinim. I also changed her diet to grain free. Supplements I give her include: Aloe Vera, Omega 3, Vitamin C (Intramuscular), Chlorophyll, and Vit D. I did not decide to amputate or do any chemotherapy because I did not want her to have to go through more bad side affects. She is hanging in there still gets up goes to the bathroom, still wags her tail, still excited when she sees me with her leash, she is still eating well (always has). I just rested her from the Arteminisin for 1 week and started her on the Artemix to see if any she has better results. I pray a lot for her and I am just grateful for the time we have together. It is not easy, I cry a little every day but I am learning to let her go when necessary. she has never really showed any sign of pain that made her cry or whince, she just has that sad tired look on her face. It’s a hit or miss situation, every situation is a little different , just do the best you can and love them all you can and pray they will pass away in peace. God bless you all.

  3. Joanna on April 23, 2014 at 9:02 am

    This is very interesting. i have just ordered Artemix, the compound studied by D
    rs. Lai and Singh at Wash. State. I also just started my dog on Apocaps. He has adenocarcinoma in the lung which spread to his elbow joint. He’s had five rounds of vinoralbine/palladia, which worked , then stopped working on the week they “rested” him. The new protocol being tried is carboplatin (given 2 weeks ago). I stated the Apocaps last week — so far 2 a day because he’s also on piroxicam, although my oncologist said there was no need to reduce the Apocaps dose. I’m trying to play it safe, however, due to his sensitive stomach. I’m increasing the Apocaps to 3 per day for a few days and see how that goes. But I’d like to add the Artemix — what say you, Dr. Dressler — you are the only one out there who “speaks” to we guardians who find ourselves in an often frustrating morass of double-talk. I don’t want to keep this see-saw of chemo going. He’s scheduled to alternate the carbo w/ adriamycin next week … until that stops working. So, I’d like to try and use nutraceuticals that won’t conflict with the “science,” but at the same time, do a complete switch to nutraceuticals like Apocaps, Artemix and maybe K-9 Immunity in the next few weeks. I honestly do not believe my boy will have a better quality of life living week to week on poisons at this point.

  4. Amber Schooley on November 20, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Does artemisinin work on lymphosarcoma? I have seen studies including bone, skin, breast, and even prostate cancer, but I don’t see much on lymphosarcoma

  5. Tony on September 20, 2013 at 3:46 am

    Can we use Apocaps and Artesiminin?

    • Susan Kazara Harper on September 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      Hello Tony, The easy answer is yes, you can use both Apocaps and Artemisinin but in a rotational basis (not on the same days), but the longer answer actually lies in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide on pages 170 through 175. Artemisinin is a powerful apoptogen and can potentially cause nausea in some dogs. In all cases, please make sure you consult with your veterinarian about the nutraceuticals you wish to use. Good luck!

  6. Pat on April 5, 2013 at 9:47 am

    My dog was just diagnosed with osteosarcoma. I was interested in your blog.

    Thanks

  7. Gemma on December 25, 2012 at 2:17 am

    Hey there, I was wondering whether the process Artemisinin put’s the cancerous cells through, could cause inflammation or pain at all? My Rottie Bitch has had a slow growing tumour in a Carpal bone. Xray’s around 4 weeks ago showed the growth was mostly Soft Tissue, but the bone had some reaction. Although it’s not in a long bone, it’s believed that this is an Osteosarcoma.
    Amputation is not an option, with her always having an Arthritic hind leg on the same side. Bonnie was not lame with it originally. I started Artemisinin 2 weeks ago. The growth has grown marginally, but she is reluctant to weight bare now. I do understand that the pain can come on suddenly and gradually worsen.
    We have taken the chance of taking her off the Pred’s she was on every 3rd day for the Canine Atrophic Masticatory Muscle Myositis she was diagnosed with around 3 years ago. This was to see whether NSAID’s would be able to mange her pain. We started Metacam on Friday last week, and are using Tramadol but we’re having no joy. Are there any pain med’s you would recommend? I want to give her every chance at a pain free, comfortable time with us, for as long as she is here.
    I know there are no miracle cures, but the tumour seem’s so small – she’s such a happy, healthy dog barring the obvious.

    Thank you,

    Gemma

  8. Doryan on October 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    Are Apocaps appropriate for chronic lymphocytic leukemia? I just read in your book that they are good for any type of cancer. Since his lymphocyte count is already high (B cells are cloning) I am afraid of overstimulating. Can I get your opinion re this? I don’t believe my vet is aware of Apocaps or if they are appropriate for CLL.

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