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A Cure for Leukemia?

6539493715-67ef32bdf3-o.jpgFriend virus leukemia stem cells stained with Wright-Geimsa stain.
PHOTO: ROBERT PAULSON

A compound produced from fish oil that appears to target leukemia stem cells could lead to a cure for the disease.

According to Sandeep Prabhu, associate professor of immunology and molecular toxicology, the compound delta-12-protaglandin J3, or D12-PGJ3, targeted and killed the stem cells of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) in mice. The compound is produced from an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and fish oil.

“Past research 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 also have the ability to selectively kill leukemia-causing stem cells in mice,” said Prabhu. “The important thing is that the mice were completely cured of leukemia with no relapse.”

During the experiments, the researchers injected mice with D12-PGJ3. They said that the compound kills cancer-causing stem cells in the mice’s spleen and bone marrow. Specifically, it activates the p53 gene in the leukemia stem cell that programs the cell’s own death. The team’s findings are published in the December 2011 issue of the journal Blood.

According to Robert Paulson, associate professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences who co-directed the research, 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.

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, adds Prabhu.

In previous experiments, D12-PGJ3 also killed the stem cells of Friend-virus-induced leukemia, an experimental model for human leukemia. The researchers are currently preparing to test the compound in humans.