Potential Role of Fish Oil to Cure Leukemia

An Omega-3 fatty acid, a chemical compound found in fish oil endows enormous health benefits, ranging from lowering body’s total cholesterol up to improving skin lustre. Now this compound seems to specifically attack leukemia stem cells instead of cancerous cells and play potential role in control of the disease with no further relapse.

A new study conducted by Penn State researchers observed that the compound, delta-12-protaglandin J3, or D12-PGJ3 targeted and killed the stem cells of chronic myelogenous leukemia( CML) in mice. The compound is a metabolite of Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), an Omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and in fish oil.

Sandeep Prabhu, associate professor of immunology and molecular toxicology in the Department of Veterinary and Medical Sciences 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 leukemia-causing stem cells in mice.”

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is a type of blood cancer characterized by an abnormal proliferation of immature blood cells, especially white blood cells which are called as “blasts”. It is considered as a part of hematological neoplasm that can affect the blood, bone marrow and lymphoid system. Leukemia is differentiated into many types and subtypes depending upon types of blood cells involved and pathological appearance under the microscope. The disease can affect both children and adults.

According to Leukemia research foundation 2010 statistic, total estimated new cases of leukemia are 43,050 and estimated deaths are 21,480.

Limitation of Current Leukemia Treatment

The conventional therapy for CML with drugs targets only leukemia cells (cancerous cells), but ineffective against the leukemia stem cells. Though patient’s life prolongs by maintaining leukemia cells at low, but stem cells get obscure from drug impact, and a small-scale of stem cells give rise to more leukemia cells. Hence drugs generally fail to prevent relapses.

Robert Paulson, associate professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, who co-directed this research with Prabhu said:

“The patients must take the drugs continuously. If they stop, the disease relapses because the leukemia stems cells are resistant to the drugs.”

The Study

After receiving an injection of about 600 nanograms of D12-PGJ3 each day for week duration, each mouse showed normal blood count and the spleen returned to its normal size. D12-PGJ3 directly killed the leukemia stem cells with minimum side effects. Follow-up tests showed that the mice were completely recovered from the disease and the disease did not revert back.

In former experimental model for human leukemia, the compound also targeted the stem cells of Friend Virus-induced leukemia.

Now the researchers are more interested to know role of compound in the terminal stage of CML, referred to as ‘Blast Crisis’. Currently no specific drugs treatment is available for treating this advance stage of disease.

[box type=”note”]A Patent has been applied for approval and results are yet to be tested in human. [/box]

Role of Omega-3-Fatty Acids in Leukemia

The significant finding experts have noted out that the mice were completely cured of leukemia without any recurrence. This is attributed due to impact of the compound on cancer causing stem cells in the mice’s spleen and bone marrow. Specifically, compound activates a gene p53, a tumor suppressor gene that governs the response to DNA damage and preserves the genomic stability. p53 in the leukemia stem cell induces apoptosis, a programs cells death.

[box type=”note”]Killing of stem cells in leukemia by p53 is life-sustaining, as stem cells can further divide and produce more cancer cells, as well as create more stem cells.[/box]


  1. http://live.psu.edu/story/56944
  2. http://www.leukemia-research.org/page.aspx?pid=214

Dr. Minakshi Welukar

I am Pune based medical doctor (M.B.B.S) and certified medical writer from InfocusRx, Hyderabad, working as a family physician and freelance medical writer for health magazines and websites. Five years of clinical experience faced me to handle variety of patients to get best possible results, keep up-to-date knowledge about new medicinal advances and build-up medical specialist and social contacts.

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