Avocado on toast with egg, cucumber and radish. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post).

First it was blueberries. Then the tart, deep red seeds of pomegranates. Now it's avocado's turn in the spotlight.

Long revered as a superfood with good vitamin and fat content, the fleshy green fruit is being used in the development of a drug that researchers hope will one day be able to fight blood cancer.

In a study published in the journal Cancer Research, Paul Spagnuolo, a professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, writes of a fat in avocados that combats acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a rare and deadly form of cancer, by targeting leukemia stem cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Paul Spagnuolo (Credit: Light Imaging/University of Waterloo) Paul Spagnuolo (Light Imaging/University of Waterloo)

“The stem cell is really the cell that drives the disease,” Spagnuolo said in a statement accompanying the publication of the study, explaining that the continued presence of those cells is why so many patients with leukemia relapse.

The prognosis for AML patients is devastating because there are few treatment options. For 90 percent of those who are older than 65, the disease is fatal in five years. Spagnuolo hopes a new drug made from avocatin B -- the name of the lipid that has been shown to destroy leukemia stem cells -- may help increase their life expectancy or quality of life.

A drug for leukemia derived from avocados is still years away, but even those without cancer can still benefit from the food.

Past studies have shown that eating a lot of avocados is associated with lower blood cholesterol. In one study that involved putting people with slightly elevated levels on a diet rich in avocados for just seven days, researchers saw a 17 percent decrease in cholesterol levels.


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