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Could a compound in fish oil cure leukemia?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Penn State scientists patent a fish oil compound  that could cure leukemia.

A compound produced from EPA -- Eicosapentaenoic Acid -- an Omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils may help cure chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML. In their study, Penn State researchers found the compound delta-12-protaglandin J3, or D12-PGJ3 honed in on and killed CML stem cells in mice.

Targeting stem cells as a cure for chronic myelogenous leukemia, which is one of four main types of blood and bone marrow cancer, is important because stem cells can divide to create more stem cells that in turn spread cancer.

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. The important thing is that the mice were completely cured of leukemia with no relapse."

Robert Paulson, associate professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, who co-directed the research with professor Prabhu, explains drugs taken for leukemia don’t cure the disease, but instead suppress the number of leukemia cells. Eventually, patients develop resistance to the drugs, which must be taken continuously.

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According to the National Institutes of Health, the only known cure to date for CML is a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

Symptoms of leukemia include easy bruising, petechial rash, enlarged spleen that manifests as pressure or a feeling of fullness under the left rib cage, low grade fever, weakness and fatigue and excessive sweating.

The disease has three stages – chronic, accelerated and blast crisis. In the chronic phase, there are few symptoms. When leukemia accelerates, fever and other symptoms occur. During the blast crisis phase – the most dangerous - that can occur if CML is left untreated, bleeding and infection can occur.

In the study, mice given approximately 600 nanograms of the fish oil compound D12-PGJ3 daily, for a week, were completely cured of the disease. They did not experience relapse and spleen size and blood counts returned to normal.

The researchers used the fish oil compound because it had few side effects. The next step is to see if the blast crisis stage of chronic myelogenous leukemia will respond to D12-PGJ3. The finding means there may be a cure for leukemia on the horizon, thanks to fish oil. The researchers are planning on testing the compound in humans.

Image credit: Morguefile