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Marijuana compound could help fight breast cancer

Monday, November 19, 2007

There may be a new weapon in the fight against aggressive forms of breast cancer in the future, and it comes from an unlikely source: Marijuana. Researchers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco believe a compound in marijuana may help.

The research funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program builds on more than a decade of studies involving the genes responsible for the spread of cancer. Now scientists have found at the cellular level, a compound in cannabis inhibits the gene that controls the spread of cancer.

"The problem is not the cancer itself, the problem is the spread of the cancer," said cancer researcher Yvez Desprez, Ph.D.

Cancer researcher Pierre Desprez points to the gene ID-1 as the trigger.

"When this type of gene is expressed, the cells basically go crazy and they're very aggressive and they metastasize everywhere in the body," said Desprez.

"We could expect that if we create really effective inhibitors against it, we could potentially treat many types of aggressive cancers," said cancer researcher Sean McAllister, Ph.D.

Their research in breast cancer cell lines focused on using a non-toxic compound in cannabis to target the ID-1 gene.

"What we found was cannabidiol is a particularly good inhibitor of this gene that's responsible for the ability of cancer cells to become very aggressive," said McAllister.

Dr. Sean McAllister and Dr. Desprez collaborated on the research and believe several years from now it could lead to an oral or intravenous treatment alternative to chemotherapy.

A non-toxic drug that could slow the spread of cancer, but the research is still in the very early stages, and they caution patients against self- medicating with pot now.

"We are not asking that cancer patients smoke marijuana," said Dr. Desprez.

"You wouldn't expect that you'd be able to reach any effective concentrations by smoking," said Dr. McAllister.

"Our concern about the release of research like this is that patients get very excited about something that isn't there yet," said Barbara Brenner, Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action.

Barbara Brenner of Breast Cancer Action expects her office will receive many calls from patients about the research.

"The translation from cell lines to animals to people is a long and sometime tortuous path," said Brenner.

Scientists at California Pacific Medical Research Center plan to test a variety of cannabidiol compounds in the lab before animal studies begin. If all goes well, it'll still be several years before clinical trials start in humans.

There is already quite a bit of safety data on this marijuana compound and researchers say that should help speed the testing process along.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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