London: An Indian-origin scientist-led team has produced a compound from fish oil that targets and kills leukaemia stem cells, a key finding which they say could pave the way for new and effective treatments for the blood cancer.
In experiments on mice, researchers at the Pennsylvania State University found the compound, produced from an Omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and fish oil, completely cured the animals of the disease with no relapse.
The compound, named delta-12-protaglandin J3 (D12-PGJ3),was found targeting and killing the stem cells of chronic myelogenous leukaemia (CML), the researchers said.
Sandeep Prabhu, associate professor of immunology and molecular toxicology in the Department of Veterinary and Medical Sciences at Penn State said: "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 leukaemia-causing stem cells in mice," Prabhu was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
"The important thing is that the mice were completely cured of leukaemia with no relapse," he added.
The researchers, who detailed their findings in journal Blood, said the compound kills cancer-causing stem cells in the mice`s spleen and bone marrow.
Specifically, it activates a gene in the leukaemia stem cell that programs the cell`s own death.
Killing the stem cells in leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, is important because stem cells can divide and produce more cancer cells, as well as create more stem cells.
The current therapy for CML extends the patient?s life by keeping the number of leukaemia cells low. But the drugs fail to completely cure the disease because they do not target leukaemia stem cells.
During the experiments, the researchers injected each mouse with about 600 nanograms of the compound D12-PGJ3 each day for a week.
Tests showed that the mice were completely cured of the disease. The blood count was normal, and the spleen returned to normal size. The disease did not relapse.
Robert Paulson, who co-authored the study, said: "The patients must take the drugs continuously... If they stop, the disease relapses because the leukaemia stem cells are resistant to the drugs."
Current treatments are also unable to kill the leukaemia stem cells. "These stem cells can hide from the treatment, and a small population of stem cells give rise to more leukaemia cells," said Paulson. "So, targeting the stem cells is essential if you want to cure leukaemia."
The researchers focused on D12-PGJ3 because it killed the leukemia stem cells, but had the least number of side effects.
They are currently working to determine whether the compound can be used to treat the terminal stage of CML, referred to as Blast Crisis. There are no drugs available that can treat the disease when it progresses to this stage.
The researchers, who applied for a patent, are also preparing to test the compound in human trials.