Let me say up front that we at The Fisheries Blog are in no way qualified to dispense medical advice. We do, however, get excited when the potential for scientific and medical breakthroughs make news. And we get even more excited when those breakthroughs involve fish.
Most of you have probably heard about the benefits of taking a fish oil supplement. Certainly, the benefits have been well publicized, though the research is still ongoing and the body of evidence can tell a number of stories. There is evidence for decreasing cardiovascular disease, and improved brain function, and decreasing triglycerides (cholesterol), among other reports. But ecologically, extraction of all this fish oil is not without cost. On balance, the data suggest there are benefits to be had from fish oil, but again, we are not medical professionals. Yet despite all the fish oil reports pouring in, here is one that really caught our attention.
Researchers at Penn State University have found that a metabolite in fish oil—called J3— has cured leukemia in mice. In a nutshell, fish oil (or the synonymous omega-3 fatty acids) is broken down into a number of metabolites. Many of these metabolites may contribute to our health. But J3 specifically has the unique ability to rid mice of leukemia—and it does so completely and with almost no side effects.
Conventional cancer treatments—chemotherapy, radiation—have varying degrees of success. And many treatments—include those used in leukemia—target the bulk leukemia cells, not the stem cells. So cancer treatments reduce the overall cancer load, but often fail to eradicate the source. This is similar to mowing your lawn to get rid of the weeds, rather than pulling them out or killing the entire plant with chemicals. Fish oil’s J3, however, targets the leukemia stem cell, resulting in a cure and not just a remission.
Again, this is all early, and only in mice, and with other caveats. But so far the results are promising. Just imagine if something as simple as fish oil might prevent and/or cure cancer! What other discoveries might the mechanisms behind J3 reveal? Clearly the story here is about the research and the possibility of saving lives, but let’s not forget the importance of healthy fish stocks so that fish oil can reliably be produced. I hope our readers agree with us that fish provide a number of values—here’s hoping we can add cancer cures to that list!
Please check out this short video for an overview of the fish oil–leukemia story.
And here is an article from Penn State Ag Science Magazine.
By Steve Midway