The team came to this conclusion after conducting a study based on one of their previous works. In the earlier study, they noticed that the parasite-killing effect of artemisinin was triggered by heme. This iron-containing compound serves as the non-protein component of biological molecules like hemoglobin, which in turn feeds the malaria-causing parasites that infest red blood cells. Once digested by the parasites, the heme stimulates artemisinin into action. The artemisinin attacks the proteins essential to the parasites' survival and eliminates the parasites in the process.
The team's latest efforts revealed that cancer cells have elevated heme levels and a greater heme biosynthesis pathway, most likely due to their higher metabolic rates. These qualities increased the potency of artemisinin, making it easier for the drug to attack over 300 cancer cell proteins.