The humble avocado could hold the key to helping scientists fight cancer, a new study shows.

More than just a fruit, the avocado the new hope for those belittling with leukaemia.

A new study, published in the Cancer Research journal, aims to use avocados as a new treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

The research revealed the fruit held a molecule called Avocation B which is toxic to AML stem cells.

AML is an aggressive form of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow and often proves fatal within five years for 90% of seniors dignosed over the age 65.

In Australia, each year around 900 people are diagnosed with AML.

The most effective treatment of the disease has been through drugs targeting stem cells and now the avocado now joins a small lists of treatment options that attack the leukaemia stem cells without harming the healthy ones.

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

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

Professor Paul Spagnuolo from the University of Waterloo co-authored the study and said in a press statement that a new avocado-derived drug could one day significantly increase life expectancy and quality of life for AML patients.

“The stem cell is really the cell that drives the disease,” he said.

“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.”

While the drug is still years away from becoming approved for use in oncology clinics, Spagnuolo is already performing experiments to prepare the drug for a Phase I clinical trial, where people diagnosed with AML could have access to the drug.

Professor Spagnuolo is among only a handful of researchers worldwide, applying the pharmaceutical industry’s drug discovery research processes to food-derived compounds, called nutraceuticals – while most labs use food or plant extracts.

“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,” he said.

“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.”