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Cannabinoid plays role in survival rates of mice with pancreatic cancer

Media release

Mice with pancreatic cancer survived longer than normal if they were treated with a naturally occurring cannabinoid as well as a popular chemotherapy medication, new research led by Curtin University and Queen Mary University of London has found.

The research, published in the journal Oncogene today, tested the impact the cannabinoid Cannabidiol had on the use of chemotherapy medication, Gemcitabine, as a treatment for pancreatic cancer in mice, given the mice form of the cancer closely resembles the human disease.

Lead author Professor Marco Falasca, from the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute and the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at Curtin University, said the research indicated that Cannabidiol strongly enhanced the effectiveness of Gemcitabine among mice with pancreatic cancer.

“We found that mice with pancreatic cancer survived nearly three times longer if they were treated with both a type of cannabinoid known as Cannabidiol and the popular chemotherapy medication Gemcitabine,” Professor Falasca said.

“This study shows that chemotherapy treatments for mice with pancreatic cancer was enhanced with the use of a particular constituent of medicinal cannabis.”

Professor Falasca said the study had potentially important implications for the treatment of pancreatic cancer in humans.

“Cannabidiol is already approved for use in clinics, which means we can quickly go on to test this in human clinical trials. If we can reproduce these effects in humans, Cannabidiol could be in use in cancer clinics almost immediately, compared to having to wait for authorities to approve a new drug,” Professor Falasca said.

“The life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has barely changed in the last 40 years because there are very few, and mostly only palliative care, treatments available. Given the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer remains about seven per cent, the discovery of new treatments and therapeutic strategies is urgently needed.”

The cannabinoid Cannabidiol does not cause psychoactive effects, as opposed to other cannabinoids that are known to cause the psychoactive effects in cannabis. Cannabidiol is already cleared for use in clinics, and does not face the same challenges as products including cannabis oil, which contain controlled substances.

The research, which was supported by the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund and the Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, also involved researchers from the Queen Mary University of London, D’Annunzio University in Italy, Fondazione Edo ed Elvo Tempia and The Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Scotland.

Professor Falasca is currently collaborating with specialist cannabinoid bio-pharmaceutical company Zelda Therapeutics Ltd to help find new treatments incorporating medicinal cannabis for patients with chronic and fatal diseases including pancreatic cancer.

This project was made possible by an Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation grant.

Professor Falasca also holds an honorary position at Queen Mary University of London.

The full paper, ‘GPR55 Signalling Promotes Proliferation of Pancreatic Cancer Cells and Tumour Growth in Mice, and its Inhibition Increases Effects of Gemcitabine’, can be viewed online here.