An avocado a day keeps the cancer away? That’s the question answered by a new study published by the University of Waterloo in Canada. It asserts certain lipid molecules in avocados may attack the stem cells of leukemia, thereby destroying cancer cells before they fully develop, according to Discovery Channel News.
Hope for Leukemia Patients
Acute leukemia is cancer of the blood cells that progresses rapidly, and falls within two categories: acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). ALL is the most common cancer found in children and affects lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. AML, the focus of this study, is the most common leukemia in adults (representing about 20 percent of acute leukemia in children) and affects red blood cells, platelet-forming cells, and other types of white blood cells. It kills 90 percent of patients age 65 or older within five years, mainly because the cancer often relapses due to the nature of stem cells, notes Science Daily. Professor Paul Spagnuolo, the lead author of this study, notes molecules in avocados combat acute myeloid leukemia by targeting stem cells found in bone marrow. Very few drugs, currently available in 2015, can destroy leukemia cells in such a way.
Why Stem Cells?
Stem cells, or progenitor cells, in bone marrow divide and grow to form all types of blood cells and immune cells, notes the University of Michigan. The human body always needs a fresh supply of blood cells to maintain normal functions, so stem cells create more and more cells almost constantly. However, when normal stem cells mutate and the process goes haywire, aggressive stem cells deep in the bone marrow become difficult to eliminate completely. These mutated stem cells survive cancer treatments, and as time goes on they build up again — leading to another battle against leukemia. One reason why this study is so exciting is that this new drug bears down on cancerous stem cells at the molecular level, while leaving healthy stem cells unharmed.
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The findings of Spagnuolo’s team don’t necessarily mean eating avocados actually helps fight cancer, according to a video from Newsy. However, this new therapy may help save the lives of more than 10,000 Americans who die from this type of leukemia every year. Spagnuolo’s lab specializes in finding food-based pharmaceuticals, called nutraceuticals, that may provide cures for diseases. His next step includes an initial clinical trial, which means acute myeloid leukemia patients may have access to an experimental new drug.
Further studies and clinical trials must be done before any full-scale leukemia treatment begins, so availability of the drug (called Avocatin B) may still be a few years away. But then, hopefully, cancer patients have a new weapon in the fight against this terrible disease.