Avocados for leukemia treatment? Study shows how it’s possible

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The key to improved leukemia treatment may be in avocados.

A study from Canada’s University of Guelph focuses on a compound found in the fruit. The study shows that down the line, it may provide a road map toward better treatments for the blood and marrow cancer.

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Last year, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society expected 60,530 people to be diagnosed with leukemia. In the U.S., it’s estimated that 376,508 are people living with or in remission from leukemia.

The University of Guelph study was published in the American Society of Hematology’s journal, Blood, in March.

Paul Spagnuolo, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of food science, said in a press release that the avocado compound avocatin B takes aim at an enzyme that scientists have recognized for the first time as being crucial to cancer cell growth.

The team focused on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which is most common in older people. According to the American Cancer Society, it is still relatively rare in general. AML accounts for just 1% of all cancers. The National Cancer Institute reported that if this form of leukemia isn’t treated, it typically gets worse quickly.

Spagnuolo, who co-authored the study, said that leukemia cells have greater levels of VLCAD, an enzyme involved in their metabolism.

Noting that the compound is a probable contestant for drug therapy, he said, “the cell relies on that pathway to survive. This is the first time VLCAD has been identified as a target in any cancer.”

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Researchers sifted through nutraceutical compounds as they searched for any substance that might repress the enzyme.

“Lo and behold, the best one was derived from avocado,” Spagnuolo said.

The professor’s lab had previously evaluated avocatin B, a fat molecule only found in avocados, for managing obesity and preventing diabetes. Now, they’re evaluating its use with leukemia.

“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,” Spagnuolo said. “That sets the stage for eventual use of this molecule in human clinical trials.”

Typically, treatments for AML involve chemotherapy, which is sometimes combined with a targeted therapy drug. In special cases, surgery and radiation therapy may be used, according to the American Cancer Society.

“There’s been a drive to find less toxic drugs that can be used,” Spagnuolo said.