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Avocados show promise in fight against leukemia

Avocados – lush, nutrient-dense, frankly disgusting abominations of nature – may have a use beyond allowing restaurants to charge 20% for for sandwiches that don’t in any way benefit from them. Researchers from the University of Waterloo have found that a lipid in avocados is effective in fighting acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Known as a nutraceutical, the avocado-derived drug (known as avocatin B) works by targeting the leukemia stem cells.

“The stem cell is really the cell that drives the disease,” said Professor Paul Spagnuolo, in Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy. “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.”

AML is a particularly nasty cancer that targets immature red blood cells and manifests in the blood and bone marrow. Those diagnosed with the disease report feelings of fatigue and bruising easily. It also advances mercilessly fast – when contracted by adults over the age of 65, it proves fatal 90% of the time.

Currently, AML is treatable through conventional means – chemotherapy, radiation, etc. Stem cell transplants are effective, but can be prohibitively expensive and controversial. The idea that avocatin B could work by targeting the leukemia stem cells themselves means that it might be both affordable and effective for AML patients.

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

Widespread use and approval by the FDA is still several years off, but Spagnulo is prepping the drug for Phase I clinical trials, and has filed a patent to sell the compound under the name avocatin B.