It appears to target and kill leukemia stem cells (actually, cancer-causing cells with stem cell properties, like producing more cancer cells).
In particular – and in mouse spleens and bone marrow – it killed the stem cells of chronic myelogenous leukemia, an uncommon type of cancer of the white blood cells typically affecting older adults, killing hundreds of people a year.
The compound is called delta-12-protaglandin J3 (or D12-PGJ3), and it’s produced from eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and in fish oil. (Pictured below, a compound that closely resembles D12-PGJ3.)
Past research on fatty acids has shown the health benefits of fatty acids on the 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," says study researcher Sandeep Prabhu of Penn State. "The important thing is that the mice were completely cured of leukemia with no relapse."
- They injected the mice with about 600 nanograms of D12-PGJ3 each day for a week.
- The compound activated a gene – the tumor suppressing gene p53 – in the leukemia stem cell that programs the cell’s own death.
- Afterwards, the mice had normal blood counts, and their spleens had returned to a normal size. The disease didn’t relapse.
Current therapy extends life by keeping the number of leukemia cells low, but those drugs fail to completely cure the disease since they don’t target leukemia stem cells.
"These stem cells can hide from the treatment, and a small population of stem cells give rise to more leukemia cells," says study coauthor Penn State’s Robert Paulson. "So, targeting the stem cells is essential if you want to cure leukemia."
They're preparing to test the compound in human trials.