Avocados could hold the key to helping beat rare form of leukaemia

A lipid in avocados has been found to help fight acute myeloid leukaemia

Avocados are often praised for their health benefits, from being packed with vitamins to being good for your skin, but now they could hold the key to help fight a rare form of leukaemia.

Professor Paul Spagnuolo at the Canada University of Waterloo has identified a lipid – a group of naturally occurring molecules – within avocados, which fights against acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

AML is a rare form of blood cancer which is most common in people over the age of 65. According to Cancer Research, around 8,600 people are diagnosed with leukaemia each year, 2,600 of which are diagnosed with AML. Around 90 per cent of people diagnosed with AML over the age of 65 die within the first five years.


Dr Spagnuolo has developed a drug derived from the lipid, using a compound called Avocatin B, which targets leukaemia stem cells, which “drive the disease,” and therefore attack the root cause of the cancer. His findings have been published in the oncology journal Cancer Research.

“The stem cell is really the cell that drives the disease,” Dr Spagnuolo told Waterloo news. “The stem cell is largely responsible for the disease developing and it’s the reason why so many patients with leukaemia relapse.

“We’ve performed many rounds of testing to determine how this new drug works at a molecular level and determined that it targets stem cells selectively, leaving healthy cells unharmed,” he said.

Avocatin B “eliminates” the source of AML, Dr Spagnuolo said, and it is less toxic to the rest of the body due to its targeted effects.

Dr Spagnuolo and the university’s school of pharmacy have partnered with the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine to file a patent for Avocatin B and to pursue commercial partnerships that would see the drug taken to clinical trials, though this is a process that could take many years.