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Scientists discover cancer-fighting properties in avocado seeds

A Texas professor has found important compounds in the husk of avocado pits, usually discarded as "waste."

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

That holds true for a group of researchers in South Texas who have found new chemical compounds in avocados that could help treat cancer and other diseases.

Dr. Debasish Bandyopadhyay and his research team at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley are collecting what consumers and other researchers usually discard: the outer layer of the avocado pit.

“We call it waste of waste,” Dr. Bandyopadhyay said.

Two years ago, Dr. Bandyopadhyay realized there were no studies done on the chemical compound that make up the peel of the avocado seed, also known as the husk.

“That was the driving force, to decide, ‘So, let’s start working just on the peels,’” he recalled.

The compounds they found are the same that are used to treat debilitating diseases, including cancer and heart disease, and to create a range of consumer products.

As positive as this sounds, Dr. Bandyopadhay and his team warn that there are other compounds in the husk listed as cancerous and should only be consumed after processing.

“That is the main reason why ACS, the American Chemical Society, pointed out this research as groundbreaking,” Dr. Bandyopadhyay noted. “Because this research says that it’s not a good idea. Many good molecules are there, many bad molecules are there. So, do not take these peels like ‘as is.’”

The publishing of their findings in the journal of the ACS last summer is an accomplishment Dr. Bandyopadhyay attributes to his students.

“A mentor without students is like barbecue without fire,” he said.

Students like Orlando Castillo never expected to make such a discovery at this stage of his career.

“I’m still nervous and overwhelmed by it,” Castillo admitted. “We still haven’t completely published everything into a journal article because we want to get more information of our stuff and we want to have a clearer idea of what we’re working with.”

With only 30 percent of their research on avocado seed husks completed, this team of UT-RGV researchers hope to continue breaking new ground.