Avocados May Prove to be Cancer Fighter

Lipid from avocados targets leukemia stem cells.

Lipid from avocados targets leukemia stem cells.

The nutritional benefits from avocados are well known, but a recent study suggests the fruit may actually hold cancer fighting properties.

Published in Cancer Research, the study found that a lipid in avocados fights acute myeloid leukemia (AML) through the targeting of leukemia stem cells, which are the root of the disease. This finding is significant because there are currently few treatments available that target leukemia stem cells, the study noted.

The new drug derived from avocados could potentially increase life expectancy and quality of life for AML patients in the future.

"The stem cell is really the cell that drives the disease," Professor Paul Spagnuolo from the University of Waterloo, who discovered the lipid, said in a press release. "The stem cell is largely responsible for the disease developing and it's the reason why so many patients with leukemia relapse. We've 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."

The compound, named avocatin B, is currently in preparation for a phase 1 clinical trial.

"Not only does avocatin B eliminate the source of AML, but its targeted, selective effects make it less toxic to the body too,” Spagnuolo said.

Avocatin B falls under pharmaceutical drug discovery research programs for food-derived compounds called nutraceuticals. The drug potentially has a variety of applications besides oncology, the study noted.

Instead of using food or plant extracts, Spagnuolo highlighted the benefits from nutraceuticals with defined structures.

"Extracts are less refined. The contents of an extract can vary from plant to plant and year to year, depending on lots of factors -- on the soil, the location, the amount of sunlight, the rain," Spagnuolo added. "Evaluating a nutraceutical as a potential clinical drug requires in-depth evaluation at the molecular level. This approach provides a clearer understanding of how the nutraceutical works, and it means we can reproduce the effects more accurately and consistently. This is critical to safely translating our lab work into a reliable drug that could be used in oncology clinics."