Avocado can fight rare blood cancer: Research shows lipid compound in avocado fruit could help in beating acute myeloid leukemia by targeting root cause of disease.

Delicious, nutritious and good at fighting cancer? Ask any fan of guacamole what words they would use to describe avocado and most come up with the first two. But a new study shows that the fruit might be just as good as fighting a rare type of blood cancer.

According to research done by Paul Spagnuolo University of Waterloo, a lipid compound in avocado fruit could help in beating acute myeloid leukemia (AML) by targeting the root cause of the disease – the stem cells. The scientists named the compound Avocatin B and as its selective effect makes it less toxic to the human body than regular drug treatments, they hope that it could one day increase life expectancy and quality of life of AML patients.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a cancer of the blood, which produces abnormal blood cells, occurs in the bone marrow (the inner soft part of bones where blood cells are made) and can spread quickly if not treated.  It is generally a disease of old people and proves fatal in 90% of seniors aged over 65 years. In the U.S it is estimated that 20,000 new cases will be diagnosed in 2015.

“The stem cell is really what drives the disease,” said Professor Spagnuolo, in a press release. “The stem cell is mainly responsible for the development of the disease and is the reason why so many patients with leukemia relapse. We performed many rounds of testing to determine how this new drug works at a molecular level and confirmed that it targets stem cells selectively, leaving healthy cells unharmed.”

Only a handful of researchers including Prof. Spagnuolo are using he pharmaceutical industry’s drug discovery research processes and applying them to food derived compounds termed as nutraceuticals.

Avocatin B has multiple potential applications besides oncology and is just one of the compounds being utilized by Spagnuolo and his team isolated from a library of nutraceuticals. Usually labs use plant or food extracts but Spagnuolo prefers the defined structures and precision of using nutraceuticals.

 

“Extracts are less refined,” he explained. “The contents of an extract can vary from plant to plant and year to year, depending on lots of factors – the soil, the location, the amount of sunlight, the rain. Evaluation of a nutraceutical as a potential clinical drug requires in-depth study at the molecular level for a clearer understanding of how it works so that reproducing its effects can be done accurately. This is critical to safely translating our lab work into a reliable drug that could be used in oncology clinics.”

The study was published in the oncology journal Cancer Research on 15 June. The University of Waterloo and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada funded the research. He has also filed a patent application through a partnership with the Center for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) for the use of avocation B to treat AML. Prof. Paul Spagnuolo (Credit: Light Imaging/University of Waterloo)