“LIST International Award in Bioinnovation”
awarded for research in cancer treatment potential of avocados
Luxembourg – On November 23, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology rewarded Paul Spagnuolo and his research team with the International Award in Bioinnovation, endowed with 10,000 € by PM-International. Paul Spagnuolo, Associate Professor within the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph in Canada, visited Luxembourg to receive his award in person. We had the opportunity to interview Paul Spagnuolo and find out more about his research.
Professor Spagnuolo, what drew your attention towards considering avocados for anti-cancer treatment agents?
We performed a high-throughput screen to answer a simple question – which of the compounds in a natural product library was best at killing cancer cells. It was through this approach that we identified the avocado compound. I believe it is this systemic and unbiased approach that makes this research more powerful. We did not set out to identify the best avocado compound, we just wanted to find the compound that would have the best chance of making a clinical impact. It just so happened that the avocado compound was the best of all the ones we tested.
How will your research apply in cancer treatment?
We hope that one day our avocado-containing supplement will be used alongside conventional treatment methods to improve patient outcomes.
In what other useful implementations can your research be applied?
We spend a lot, and I mean a lot, of time understanding the cell and molecular mechanisms by which our compounds impart their activity. By defining these specific pathways, we are then able to apply our compounds to other diseases that are mediated by similar pathways. It’s like discovering that an antibiotic can be used to not only kill one specific strain of bacteria but that it can kill many different pathogenic bacterial species. I would love to go into specifics but we are currently testing this product as a therapy for other diseases. While the results are very promising, they are still preliminary.
What are the next big steps for you and your team?
We have for the past several years been working on formulating a product to contain our active avocado compounds. This product has now been approved for human use by the Canadian government and we are currently recruiting healthy individuals to participate in a Phase I clinical trial. While we are eventually hoping to test this product in leukemia patients, this is a monumental first step for our group and we are very excited to be finally getting a product into the hands of people who might actually benefit from it.
Your research draw a lot of attention in the media, how did it affect your work?
At least 2-3 times per month, I will receive an email from a patient or concerned family member asking about my work. While I try to respond to all of them, I am not always successful and for that I apologize. However, their emails motivate me to continue with our work and our ambitions of improving patient outcomes.
How many avocados do you and your family eat each day?
I wish I could get my kids to eat more avocados! Unfortunately, they are not interested. But my wife and I enjoy about 2-3 per week and I would definitely say that this increased based on our research findings.
Are you tired of hearing avocado puns every day?
Absolutely not! In fact, any joke or pun to break up a busy work day is always welcomed. But I am tired of seeing pictures of me holding an avocado!