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For decades, a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer has been a death sentence -- even remission rates are dismal.

However, a study in July 2018 in Oncogene, a peer-reviewed journal published by Nature Publishing Group, reveals some promising research involving cannabidiol (CBD) therapy.

The grim prognoses could soon change, said lead researcher on the study, Dr. Marco Falasca, a professor in the School of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

The first paragraph of the study laid out the sad reality of pancreatic cancer treatment: “The life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has seen no substantial changes in the last 40 years as very few and mostly just palliative treatments are available. As the five years' survival rate remains around 5 percent, the identification of novel pharmacological targets and development of new therapeutic strategies are urgently needed.”

Falasca and his colleagues at Queen Mary University in London and Curtin University found that the combination of CBD and chemotherapy appeared to slow down the growth of pancreatic cancer cells in mice.

Mice with pancreatic cancer survived nearly three times longer when we added medicinal cannabis to their chemotherapy treatment. Click To Tweet

"The results were remarkable,” Falasca told Mice with pancreatic cancer survived nearly three times longer when we added medicinal cannabis to their chemotherapy treatment.”

The international team of scientists demonstrated that the progression of pancreatic cancer could be stalled by genetically targeting and deleting the GPR55 protein, a cannabinoid receptor. CBD served to block the cell cycle and cell growth.

They tested the effects of the therapy using either CBD alone or CBD with gemcitabine (GEM), a chemotherapy drug.

The results showed that while mice survived for similar lengths of time when given either CBD or gemcitabine alone, there was a “strikingly and statistically significant increase in survival observed when CBD was used in combination with GEM… a nearly threefold extension of mice survival.”

The combination suggested that CBD impacted pathways involved in acquiring resistance to the gemcitabine treatment. This was a particularly important finding, Falasca said, because “the development of drug resistance is one of the main reasons for such an abysmal prognosis of pancreatic cancer."

Demonstrating the effectiveness of combining CBD and GEM is “very important considering that both drugs are already approved for medical use and therefore this combination can be quickly tested in clinical trials," Falasca said.

The researchers intend to start human trials as soon as possible. “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,” Falasca said.

The research was supported in part by the London-based Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, whose chief executive, Maggie Blanks, told via email that she found the results intriguing.

“It's heartening to know that CBD in combination with gemcitabine could be tested in people more quickly than brand-new therapies as the need for new treatments is particularly urgent for pancreatic cancer,” Blanks said. “It will be interesting to see if the findings can be replicated in human patients whose pancreatic cancer was driven by this gene." Although she noted that the GPR55 protein is a major driver in only one-third of pancreatic cancer diagnoses.

In the United Kingdom, more than 9,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year.

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 55,440 new cases of pancreatic cancer and 44,330 deaths in the United States in 2018.