Editorial

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Critics of legalized medical marijuana sometimes argue that there’s no solid proof that the substance is effective in treating or curing any diseases. They might have to change their tune.

According to a new study from Harvard University’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a chemical found in cannabis has shown “significant therapy potential” in treatment of pancreatic cancer.

As noted in a report by Yahoo Lifestyles, pancreatic cancer makes up only a small fraction of all cancer cases in this country, but it’s terribly difficult to treat. The one-year survival rate is only 20%. After five years, less than 8% of patients are still alive.

So to say that this ray of hope delivered in the Harvard study is welcome would be an understatement.

According to the Yahoo report, the substance that was studied, called FBL-03G, is a “cannabis derivative known as a flavonoid – the name for a naturally occurring compound found in plants, vegetables and fruits which, among other purposes, provides their vibrant colors. Flavonoids from cannabis were discovered by a London researcher named Marilyn Barrett in 1986, and were later found to have anti-inflammatory benefits.”

The Yahoo story said scientists have long believed that flavonoids from cannabis might have medical potential, but they make up only 0.14% of the plant. That would lead one to believe that it would take massive cannabis farms to produce enough flavonoids for medical use, but fortunately, scientists recently discovered a way to produce those flavonoids through genetic engineering.

With that advancement, the Dana-Farber researchers were able to test FBL-03G on pancreatic cancer in the laboratory. Dr. Wilfred Ngwa, a Harvard assistant professor and a study researcher, said the results were “major.”

“The most significant conclusion is that tumor-targeted delivery of flavonoids, derived from cannabis, enabled both local and metastatic tumor cell kill, significantly increasing survival from pancreatic cancer,” Ngwa told Yahoo Lifestyle. “This has major significance, given that pancreatic cancer is particularly refractory to current therapies.”

The most surprising outcome, said Ngwa, was that FBL-03G was able to attack other cancer cells.

“We were quite surprised that the drug could inhibit the growth of cancer cells in other parts of the body, representing metastasis, that were not targeted by the treatment. This suggests that the immune system is involved, as well, and we are currently investigating this mechanism.”

That’s especially significant, Ngwa told Yahoo, because pancreatic cancer often is diagnosed after it has spread.

“If successfully translated clinically, this will have major impact in treatment of pancreatic cancer,” said the researcher.

Next up at Harvard are pre-clinical studies. Ngwa said it is hoped those will be finished by the end of next year. That would be followed by human testing.

The Dana-Farber study could be just the tip of the iceberg in applying cannabis and its derivatives. We would like to think that further studies will find additional ways that these substances can fight diseases.

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