According to Penn State researchers, a compound called delta-12-protaglandin J3 (D12-PGJ3) appears to target leukemia stem cells. The compound killed the stem cells of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) in mice, said Sandeep Prabhu, Penn State associate professor of immunology and molecular toxicology in the Department of Veterinary and Medical Sciences.
The potentially curing compound comes from Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and in fish oil.
“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,” said Prabhu. “The important thing is that the mice were completely cured of leukemia with no relapse.”
The researchers said that the compound kills cancer-causing stem cells in the mice’s spleen and bone marrow. It does so by activating the p53 gene in the leukemia stem cell, which programs the cell’s own death. It is important to kill the stem cells in leukemia because they can divide and produce more cancer cells.
The therapy that is currently used for CML will extend a patient’s life by keeping the number of leukemia cells low. However, the drugs don’t cure the disease because they don’t target leukemia stem cells.
“The patients must take the drugs continuously,” said Paulson. “If they stop, the disease relapses because the leukemia stem cells are resistant to the drugs.”
After the researchers injected each mouse with about 600 nanograms of D12-PGJ3 each day for a week, their tests showed that the mice were completely cured of the disease.
The researchers have applied for a patent and are also preparing to test the compound on humans.