Leukaemia stem cells destroyed by Avocado compound

A new study published by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, has specified that Avocatin B, a compound in avocados targets and destroys leukaemia cells. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer that begins in the bone marrow, where blood stem cells (immature cells) turn into mature blood cells.

An estimated 20,000 people in the US will be diagnosed with AML this year, and more than 10,000 people will die from the cancer. AML is a devastating disease and proves fatal within five years for 90 per cent of seniors over age 65.

Avocatin B is a compound found in avocados and targets and destroys leukemia stem cells, while leaving healthy blood cells unscathed. It is classified as a nutraceutical, defined as food-derived products that have potential clinical benefits.

“The stem cell is really the cell that drives the disease,” said Professor Spagnuolo, the lead study author at the University of 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”.

“Not only does avocatin B eliminate the source of AML, but its targeted, selective effects make it less toxic to the body, too,” said Prof. Spagnuolo. “It’s an exciting time for our lab,” said Spagnuolo.

“Extracts are less refined. The contents of an extract can vary from plant to plant and year to year, depending on lots of factors – on the soil, the location, the amount of sunlight, the rain,” said Spagnuolo. “Evaluating a nutraceutical as a potential clinical drug requires in-depth evaluation at the molecular level. This approach provides a clearer understanding of how the nutraceutical works, and it means we can reproduce the effects more accurately and consistently. This is critical to safely translating our lab work into a reliable drug that could be used in oncology clinics.”


Targeting mitochondria with avocatin B induces selective leukemia cell death, Paul Spagnuolo et al., Cancer Research, doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-14-2676, published online 15 June 2015, abstract.

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