A new study from the University of Guelph has found that an element present in avocados may ultimately open up a path for better treatment of leukemia (blood cancer).
The compound in avocados, which is found to be targeting an enzyme, has been identified by scientists as critical to cancer cell growth, said Dr. Paul Spagnuolo, Department of Food Science.
The study, published in the journal Blood, focused on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which is the most devastating form of leukemia as it occurs mainly in people over age 65, and only less than 10 percent of patients survive five years after diagnosis.
“Leukaemia cells have higher amounts of an enzyme called VLCAD involved in their metabolism. The cell relies on that pathway to survive. This is the first time VLCAD has been identified as a target in any cancer,” said Dr. Spagnuolo.
During the study, the team screened nutraceutical compounds among numerous compounds, looking for any substance that might inhibit the enzyme and the best one was derived from avocado.
“VLCAD can be a good marker to identify patients suitable for this type of therapy. It can also be a marker to measure the activity of the drug. That sets the stage for the eventual use of this molecule in human clinical trials,” said Dr. Spagnuolo.
Earlier, Dr. Spagnuolo’s lab had looked at avocatin B, a fat molecule found only in avocados, for potential use in treating diabetes and managing obesity.
Currently, about half of patients over 65 diagnosed with AML enter palliative care. Others undergo chemotherapy, but drug treatments are dangerous and can end up killing patients. So, studies were always conducted to find less toxic drugs that can be used to treat leukemia.
Referring to earlier work using avocatin B for diabetes, Dr. Spagnuolo said, “We completed a human study with this as an oral supplement and have been able to show that appreciable amounts are fairly well tolerated.”