Fish oil may have yet another use--as a weapon to wipe out leukemia cells.
Penn State scientists have discovered that a compound derived from fish oil targets and kills leukemia stem cells in the spleen and bone marrow in mice, completely wiping out the disease with minimal side effects, according to an article on the academic research news site Futurity.org. The study, detailed in the journal Blood, shows enormous promise for fish oil, a substance long taken as a health supplement pill because of its omega-3 fatty acids and their potential benefit for the heart.
Researchers may not be able to reproduce the results in people, of course. But if they can, a fish oil anti-leukemia compound could significantly advance the standard of care, which the researchers note extends patients' lives by suppressing the number of leukemia cells, although the disease remains.
Still, existing and mixed research results present other obstacles toward developing a fish oil cancer pill. On the one hand, the FDA recently accepted an NDA from Dublin-based Amarin ($AMRN) for a prescription omega-3 drug to treat high triglycerides. But a 2010 test of omega-3 fatty acids to treat atrial fibrillation was unsuccessful. And in April, researchers found that a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, obtained directly from fish rather than fish oil, gives men a greater risk of developing prostate cancer.
The Penn State researchers call their compound delta-12-protaglandin J3, or D12-PGJ3, and it is derived in part from the omega-3 fatty acid known as eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA. The compound activates the p53 gene in leukemia stem cells, which programs those cells' deaths. It is crucial to kill leukemia stem cells because they can create more of themselves and also divide and create more cancer cells, said co-lead researcher Sandeep Prabhu, an associate professor of immunology and molecular toxicology.
Mice with chronic myelogenous leukemia were injected with 600 nanograms of D12-PGJ3 for 7 days. Researchers are now working to determine if their compound can treat the terminal stage of CML, and they hope to begin human trials.
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