Plants and trees have often been used to treat diseases, in fact in ancient cultures, plants, roots, trees and other natural substances were all they had to fight infection and illness. In modern medicine plants like pomegranate, milk thistle, cranberries, blueberries and a host of others are used to treat all kinds of illnesses. There's even a name for them: Nutracueticals. Coined by the chairman of the Foundation for Innovation Medicine, Stephen L. DeFelice, in 1989 a nutraceutical is any food, herb or supplement that contains compounds gleaned from plants and trees for medicinal purposes.
It's no surprise then that given recent discoveries about natural ingredients in medicine, more and more researchers are looking into plants and their properties to see if any of them have applications for some of today's most serious medical conditions. One of the most recent studies comes out of the University of Waterloo where Professor Paul Spagnuolo has published research on avocados that holds a great deal of promise for patients diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, or AML. Professor Spagnuolo's team chose to focus on the one part of AML that has yet to be conquered, the stem cells. Leukemia stem cells are what drive the disease and cause it spread. If a way to shut that process down can be found, it could revolutionize how the disease is treated and hopefully provide a path to a cure.
Avocados to treat cancer? Apparently, it might be possible. The team that studied the trees that produce the fruit and it's biology discovered that a lipid contained in avocados appears to work directly against the deadly stem cells of AML and have developed a compound with this lipid as its active ingredient. In a statement from the University, Professor Spagnuolo said, "The stem cell is really the cell that drives the disease. The stem cell is largely responsible for the disease developing and it's the reason why so many patients with leukemia relapse. We've performed many rounds of testing to determine how this new drug works at a molecular level and confirmed that it targets stem cells selectively, leaving healthy cells unharmed."
Scientists at the University chose to isolate the nutraceutical compounds from plants rather than simply plant extracts because extracts can vary so much. Spagnuolo went on to state, "Extracts are less refined. The contents of an extract can vary from plant to plant and year to year, depending on lots of factors - on the soil, the location, the amount of sunlight, the rain. Evaluating a nutraceutical as a potential clinical drug requires in-depth evaluation at the molecular level. This approach provides a clearer understanding of how the nutraceutical works, and it means we can reproduce the effects more accurately and consistently. This is critical to safely translating our lab work into a reliable drug that could be used in oncology clinics."
The research on the compound developed in the study, named by Spagnuolo as Avocatin B, is published in the Oncology journal Cancer Research. The team hopes to proceed with the compound into clinical trials with human patients. As is often the case in science, sometimes to find the newest thing, researchers have to look back to substances that have been around for thousands of years. The field of plant-based research is taking off in many labs around the world, hopefully using what grows around us to further advance medical science. Check out the video below to learn more.
I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.