Promising Therapy for Leukemia

Ag Sciences researchers found a way to kill leukemia cells in mice using omega-3 from fish oil.

Robert Paulson and Sandeep Prabhu
Penn State researchers Sandeep Prahbu (right) and Robert Paulson (left) sketch out a delta-12-protaglandin J3, or D12-PGJ3. The compound, derived from fish oil, targeted and killed the stem cells of chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML, in mice.

Excited by this discovery, they planned to test the method on human leukemia cells. We caught up with researcher Bob Paulson to find out what’s been going on since our story.

"We initially found that in mice, omega-3 manufactures a compound called J3 for short, and J3 kills both leukemia cells and leukemia stem cells," says Paulson, professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences. "Current drugs for treating leukemia don’t target stem cells, and that’s a critical component because stem cells can create more stem cells as well as leukemia cells."

Now, Paulson and his colleague Sandeep Prabhu, associate professor of immunology and molecular toxicology, are working with human leukemia cells, both in culture dishes and in mice. They’re encouraged by evidence that J3 kills the cells in culture dishes, and they are collaborating with a clinician at the University of Pennsylvania to grow human leukemia cells in mice and observe J3’s effects. "Once we can show we have good data in human cells in culture and in the mice it will be powerful," says Paulson, "and we hope to attract investors so we can run a clinical trial."

The researchers have already attracted one potential investor. Houston-based venture capital investor and Penn State alum David Schubert (MBA, 1993) is following their research and, along with a consultant, is providing business and scientific guidance and working to bring venture and/or strategic investors on board. The Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health also provide research funding.

As they move forward, Paulson and Prabhu are collaborating with chemists to see if J3 administered orally to mice has the same effect as J3 injected into the abdomen. Says Paulson, "Although the ideal drug is in the form of a pill, our feeling is that if there’s an injection that cures cancer, that would be just fine too."

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"A Cure for Leukemia?" - 2012 Penn State Ag Science magazine