New Study Finds Cannabis Compound Could Have Even Greater Reach in Inhibiting Aggressive Cancer than Previously Thought


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Ability to stop spread of cancer could extend beyond breast cancer to brain cancer despite significant differences between the two malignancies

San Francisco, CA, December 13, 2012– Researchers at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute (CPMCRI, a Sutter Health affiliate) have found that a compound in cannabis previously shown to decrease metastatic breast cancer now shows promise in stopping aggressive brain cancer as well. The findings are particularly important given the safety of the cannabis compound and the fact that patients with advanced brain cancer have few options for treatment.

“These findings offer some hope in an area where there’s been very little, and give even greater potential to our earlier research,” said Pierre-Yves Desprez, Ph.D., senior scientist with CPMCRI and corresponding author of the new study. “We thought that the mechanisms for the progression of brain cancer would be quite different from that of breast and other cancers, and the fact that we were able to duplicate the same success for brain cancer that we did for breast, quite frankly, amazed us.”

There are about 20,000 people diagnosed with brain cancer each year in the US alone, and very few therapies exist to help those with the most aggressive form of the disease. Brain tumors, known as gliomas, are the fourth most frequent cause of cancer-related death in younger patients aged 35 – 45; the median survival span from the time of diagnosis is 14 months. And the incidence of the most malignant type of tumor, glioblastoma, appears to be on the rise.

The journey to this discovery is almost two decades in the making. CPMCRI scientists, led by molecular biologist Dr. Desprez, had previously discovered that Id-1, a gene first identified in 1991 and known to be a key player in embryonic development, was a culprit in the metastasis of certain types of breast cancer – particularly those that do not have hormone receptors (“triple negatives”) and thus do not respond to non-chemotherapy treatments such as Tamoxifen or Herceptin.

Subsequently, as a collaborative effort with CPMCRI pharmacologist Sean McAllister, Ph.D., the researchers found that cannabidiol (CBD), a non-toxic and non-psychotropic compound found in cannabis, inhibited (“down-regulated”) Id-1 in human breast cancer cells – meaning that CBD stopped Id-1 from causing cancer invasion and metastasis. Initial research conducted in cell cultures was followed with animal studies.

“Originally, our research was focused on cannabis compounds similar to THC, the primary psychoactive compound in the plant. We were excited to realize that CBD, this lesser known compound in cannabis, could halt breast cancer metastasis through the inhibition of Id-1,” said Dr. McAllister, senior author of the new study.

Similar Effect for Brain Cancer Cells

The new CPMCRI study, published online December 13 in the journal Cancer Research, shows that the Id-1 gene has the same key role in regulating aggressive brain cancer cells as it does in controlling metastatic breast cancer cells: when the gene is “turned off,” the spread of the brain cancer cells is slowed down. And more importantly, CBD was effective in turning off the gene in both culture and animal models using human glioblastoma cells. As with breast cancer, the more aggressive the disease, the greater success CBD had in controlling it.

“What’s so thrilling about this discovery is that it offers a new window of hope,” said Liliana Soroceanu, M.D., Ph.D., an expert in brain cancer research at CPMCRI and lead author of the new study. “CBD has proven effective in reducing the aggressiveness of a subset of tumor cells, namely the ‘cancer stem cells,’ which are resistant to radiation and chemotherapy. We believe CBD shows great promise in rendering these cells more responsive to standard therapies.”

The researchers feel confident that this new research, conducted with human tumor biopsy samples and animal subjects, validates their earlier breast cancer studies. Efforts are now underway to begin clinical trials with cancer patients to confirm efficacy and determine the best means of drug delivery.

The new study in Cancer Research, entitled “Id-1 is a Key Transcriptional Regulator of Glioblastoma Aggressiveness and a Novel Therapeutic Target,” can be found online at the website of the American Association for Cancer Research. Other co-authors are Chandani Limbad, Eric Singer, Juanita Allison, Isabel Adrados, Rumi Kawamura, Arash Pakdel, Daniel Nguyen, Robert Arauz as well as Drs. Ryuichi Murase, Yayoi Fukuyo, Sabeena Khan, Garret L. Yount and Dan H. Moore.


California Pacific Medical Center. Hands-on Healing.

At San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center we deliver personal, hands-on care to every single patient, every single day. As one of California’s largest private, community-based, not-for-profit, teaching medical centers, we research the most up-to-date treatments, hire the most qualified individuals, and practice the most modern, innovative medicine available. We deliver the highest quality expert care, with kindness and compassion, in acute, post-acute and outpatient services, as well as preventive and complementary medicine. We also provide disease counseling, family support and wellness treatments. Throughout the entire organization, every member of the CPMC team is committed to giving our patients the individual, hands-on attention they deserve. Every hand plays a part, and every hand has the power to change a life.

The California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute creates an active partnership between clinicians and researchers, merging research institute interests with the needs of the medical center. When associated with a research program, physicians have knowledge and access to more effective treatments and diagnostic technologies.

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