Fish Oil Possible Solution for Leukemia

Chronic myelogenous leukemia in mice cured with Omega 3 fatty acid compound

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) You've heard about the health benefits of fish oil. What this oil contains - Omega 3 fatty acids - are good for your  heart, joints, eyes and brain. Researchers think a compound found in the natural substance may be able to fight off a type of cancer.

Fish oil produces a compound called delta-12-protaglandin J3 - or D12-PGJ3 for short - that attacks and kills chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) stem cells in mice.

If this compound works in humans, we may be looking at a solution for this blood cancer.

"Fish oil may be a healthy supplement - ask your doctor."

Penn State researchers, led by Sandeep Prabhu, associate professor of immunology and molecular toxicology in the Department of Veterinary and Medical Sciences, demonstrated that this compound can identify, go after and kill the stem cells that cause CML in mice.

Researchers found that compound destroys cancerous cells in the mice's spleen and bone marrow and pumps up a gene - p53 -  that programs the leukemia stem cells to commit suicide.

For the study, mice were injected with D12-PGJ3 daily for a week. Results showed that the mice experienced a complete cure; their blood count was normal, and their spleens became a normal size. And the disease did not reappear.

"The important thing is that the mice were completely cured of leukemia with no relapse," Prabhu said.

The big deal about this work is that it involves stem cells, which are blank cells that can make copies of themselves or become a specific type of cell. In this case, the stem cells become leukemia cells and they can divide and make more leukemia cells and also more stem cells. 

This means stem cells are very powerful multipliers and really hard to control.

Co-director of this research, Robert Paulson, associate professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, says current CML research works by minimizing the number of leukemia cells in a patient. Paulson adds that existing drugs don't cure the disease because they don't destroy the leukemia stem cells that can keep on making more cancer cells.

Also, CML patients have to keep taking the drugs to which they eventually become resistant.

Paulson explained, "These stem cells can hide from the treatment, and a small population of stem cells give rise to more leukemia cells." He says that attacking the stem cells is essential to cure the disease.

The team is looking to see if the compound can be used in the last stage of CML, known as the blast phase, for which there are currently no drugs.

The researchers have applied for a patent and are planning to test the compound in human trials.

Results from this study appeared in the December 22, 2011 issue of Blood.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 27, 2011
Last Updated:
November 8, 2012