Fish oil may hold key to leukaemia cure
A compound produced from fish oil that appears to target leukemia stem cells could lead to a cure for the disease, according to Penn State researchers.
The statement follows research where mice with leukemia-causing cells who were treated with the fish oil component were completely cured of the disease – with no relapse.
The compound – named delta-12-protaglandin J3, or D12-PGJ3 – targeted and killed the stem cells of chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML.
Finding a cure: Penn State researchers Sandeep Prabhu (right) and Robert
Paulson, sketch a diagram of the fish oil component, D12-PGJ3, that
targeted and killed the stem cells of leukemia in mice
It is produced from an Omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and fish oil.
Sandeep Prabhu, associate professor of immunology and molecular toxicology in the Department of Veterinary and Medical Sciences at Penn State said: 'Research in the past on fatty acids has shown the health benefits of fatty acids on cardiovascular system and brain development, particularly in infants.
'But we have shown that some metabolites of Omega-3 have the ability to selectively kill the leukemia-causing stem cells in mice.'
He added: 'The important thing is that the mice were completely cured of leukemia with no relapse.'
The researchers, who released their findings in the current issue of Blood, said the compound kills cancer-causing stem cells in the mice's spleen and bone marrow.
Specifically, it activates a gene in the leukemia stem cell that programs the cell's own death.
The shape of the D12-PGJ3 compound which could same hundreds of lives every year
Killing the stem cells in leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, is important because stem cells can divide and produce more cancer cells, as well as create more stem cells.
The current therapy for CML extends the patient’s life by keeping the number of leukemia cells low. But the drugs fail to completely cure the disease because they do not target leukemia stem cells.
Robert Paulson, associate professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, who co-directed this research with Prabhu, said of the existing treatment: 'The patients must take the drugs continuously… If they stop, the disease relapses because the leukemia stem cells are resistant to the drugs.'
Current treatments are also unable to kill the leukemia stem cells.
'These stem cells can hide from the treatment, and a small population of stem cells give rise to more leukemia cells,' said Paulson. 'So, targeting the stem cells is essential if you want to cure leukemia.'
During the experiments, the researchers injected each mouse with about 600 nanograms of fish oil compound D12-PGJ3 each day for a week.
Tests showed that the mice were completely cured of the disease. The blood count was normal, and the spleen returned to normal size. The disease did not relapse.
Prabhu and his colleagues have applied for a patent, and are also preparing to test the compound in human trials
The researchers focused on D12-PGJ3 because it killed the leukemia stem cells, but had the least number of side effects.
They are currently working to determine whether the compound can be used to treat the terminal stage of CML, referred to as Blast Crisis.
There are no drugs available that can treat the disease when it progresses to this stage.
The researchers, who applied for a patent, are also preparing to test the compound in human trials.