NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Parthenolide, a chemical derived from the feverfew plant, destroys acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells, leaving normal bone marrow cells relatively unscathed.

Moreover, the compound may get at the root of the disease because it also kills stem cells that give rise AML.

“This research is a very important step in setting the stage for future development of a new therapy for leukemia,” senior author Dr. Craig T. Jordan, from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York, said in a statement. “We have proof that we can kill leukemia stem cells with this type of agent, and that is good news.”

The findings, which appear in the medical journal Blood, are based on lab dish experiments looking into parthenolide’s destructive effects.

The chemical showed a strong ability to trigger the death of human AML cells as well as chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) cells. In fact, this agent was found to be much more specific to leukemia cells than the standard chemotherapy drug Ara-C.

Further analysis revealed that parthenolide selectively targets stem cell populations.

Thus, the investigators conclude that parthenolide is representative of “a potentially important new class of drugs for leukemia stem cell targeted therapy.”