SCM’s research unleashes potential of artemisinin derivative in treating human obesity

13 March 2024

The SCM research team led by Dr. Xavier Wong Hoi-leong, Associate Professor; Professor Bian Zhaoxiang, Chair Professor and Tsang Shiu Tim Endowed Professor in Chinese Medicine Clinical Studies; and Dr. Pallavi Asthana, Research Assistant Professor, discovered that artesunate, a derivative from Qinghaosu (artemisinin) which is a natural product from the Chinese herb Artemisia annua, can effectively reduce body weight, control food intake and improve metabolic profiles such as insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels in obese mice and macaques, without inducing side effects of nausea and malaise. Artesunate has been used as an anti-malarial drug with a good profile of safety and efficacy for decades. This is the first time that artesunate is demonstrated to be able to treat obesity in a non-human primate, suggesting its therapeutic potential as a drug for treating human obesity.

The research team further unveiled the mechanism of how artesunate controls bodyweight and appetite. It was discovered that artesunate increases circulating levels of Growth Differentiation Factor 15 (GDF15), an appetite-regulating hormone which is secreted by various tissues in the body. When GDF15 binds to and activates the receptor named the GDNF family receptor α-like (GFRAL), it triggers a signal from the hindbrain to reduce food intake.

The research results provide hope for developing a novel treatment agent in response to the public health challenge of obesity, which warrants more extensive and effective interventions. Nonetheless, a series of studies and trials on its efficacy, safety and other aspects of application on humans are necessary before artesunate can be deployed properly for the purpose of obesity treatment.

The research findings have been published in the international academic journal Nature Communications.

To learn more about this research, please click here for the full press release.

20240307_1 20240307_1

The research team of Dr Xavier Wong Hoi-leong, Associate Professor (left), and Dr Pallavi Asthana, Research Assistant Professor (right) of the School of Chinese Medicine at HKBU demonstrated for the first time that artesunate is able to treat obesity in a non-human primate.

20240307_2 20240307_2

The Chinese herb Artemisia annua