Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is considered a devastating disease as it proves fatal in 90 per cent of the seniors who contract the disease. There are few drug treatments available for the diseases and fewer treatments that actually target leukemia stem cells.
However, a researchers at University of Waterloo has managed to discover the cancer fighting properties of the otherwise rich, creamy, and nutritious Avocados. Professor Paul Spagnuolo has discovered lipid in avocados that is capable of combating acute myeloid leukemia (AML) by targeting the root of the disease – leukemia stem cells. Spagnuolo is optimistic that his new avocado-derived drug could one day significantly increase life expectancy and quality of life for AML patients.
Describing stem cells as the drivers of the disease, Professor Spagnuolo, explains that stem cells are largely responsible for the development of the disease and they are the reason why there is leukemia relapse in so many patients.
“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 professor added.
Partnering with Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) Professor Spagnuolo has filed a patent application for the use of the compound, named avocatin B, to treat AML and has revealed that they are pursuing commercial partnership that would take avocatin B into clinical trials.
Professor Spagnuolo says that avocatin B is capable of eliminating the source of AML and because it is targeted and selective of which cells it kills, it is far less toxic to the body.
Though the drug will take years to hit the shelves, Spagnuolo is already performing experiments to prepare the drug for a Phase I clinical trial. This is the first round of trials where people diagnosed with AML could have access to the drug.
Professor Spagnuolo is among only a handful of researchers worldwide, applying the pharmaceutical industry’s rigorous drug discovery research processes to food-derived compounds, called nutraceuticals.
There are multiple potential applications for Avocatin B beyond oncology, and the drug is just one of several promising compounds that Spagnuolo and his team have isolated from a library of nutraceuticals. Most labs would use food or plant extracts, but Spagnuolo prefers the precision of using 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,” said Spagnuolo. “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.”
The research has been published in Cancer Research, a top-ten oncology journal.