How cannabis could be a first step in treating liver cancer

Hebrew University’s Prof. Alexander Binshtok in his lab
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

"Eliminating cancerous cells while leaving healthy ones alone is an important step toward reducing patients’ suffering.”

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a method to deliver chemotherapy drugs used to treat liver cancer directly to malignant cells, bypassing healthy ones.
The method involves a combination of cannabidiol, one of the active cannabinoids identified within the cannabis plant, and a low dose of doxorubicin, a chemotherapeutic agent.
“Most anticancer treatments are not sufficiently specific, meaning they attack healthy cells together with the malignant ones they’re trying to get rid of,” explained Prof. Alexander Binshtok, head of the Pain Plasticity Research Group at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine and Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences. “This leads to the many serious side effects associated with chemotherapy. Eliminating cancerous cells while leaving healthy ones alone is an important step toward reducing patients’ suffering.”
TRPV2 protein in action (Credit: Dr. David Roberson)

Binshtok explained to The Jerusalem Post that doxorubicin is “very effective against cancerous cells,” but it also affects heart cells and liver cells, even leading to heart failure when a patient is being treated for liver cancer.
He said that liver cancer cells express a specific protein, TRPV2, which, when activated, creates a pore or channel in the otherwise impenetrable membrane. In contrast, healthy cancer cells do not have this protein. He said that CBD can be used to open this channel, through which a low dose of the drug can be inserted to kill the cancer cells.
The drug will not enter the healthy cells that don’t have this protein.
In the future, the precision of this delivery method may allow doctors to prescribe lower chemotherapy doses and to relieve patients of some of the harsher effects of chemo.
The findings were published in a recent issue of Frontiers in Pharmacology.
Binshtok said that because the team is using a chemotherapeutic agent already used in the clinic, as soon as his team is able to prove concept in the laboratory on animals, the passage to humans could be relatively short.
“It’s too early to make concrete predictions, but we are hopeful,” he said. “I hope we do have a kind of light at the end of the tunnel.”

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