Researchers from the University of Illinois have been studying the effects of endocannabinoids (a type of molecule that occurs naturally in the body) on cancer. So far, the researchers have focused on osteosarcoma cancer. The source article can be read here, at the University of Illinois News Bureau.
Osteosarcoma is a form of bone cancer that most commonly affects teenagers and young adults. It can form in any bone but often occurs in the leg and arm bones, particularly around joints such as the knee and shoulder. One of the main symptoms of osteosarcoma is pain in the affected area, and this can come and go or be constant. Other symptoms to be aware of include swelling of the area, and weakened bones that break easily.
Endocannabinoids are a type of molecule that are naturally produced when the body metabolises omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in some foods. Endocannabinoids are similar to cannabinoids in marijuana, but according to the original article, don’t have any psychotropic effects.
A study in 2017 by the researchers at Illinois found that a type of endocannabinoid called endocannabinoid epoxides (EDP-EAs) showed anti-inflammatory properties, and affected the same receptor as cannabis. Since there is some evidence that cannabis may have anti-cancer effects, the researchers at Illinois decided to find out if this is true for EDP-EAs.
The Research into Endocannabinoids
To test their hypothesis, the researchers studied mice with osteosarcoma that had spread to the lungs. It was found that in these mice, the naturally occurring EDP-EAs (endocannabinoids) had increased by 80% compared to in healthy mice.
However, the researchers were unsure what this change meant – whether the EDP-EAs were working against the cancer, or making it easier for the cancer to survive and spread. Further research showed that the molecules were actually fighting the osteosarcoma. The EDP-EAs reportedly slowed down the growth of the tumours and blood vessels (which supply tumours with nutrients) and worked to stop cancer cells from migrating. The EDP-EAs were also found to be a cause of cancer cell death, although less effective in this role than existing chemotherapy treatments. One author of the study, Professor Fan, says that preventing migration is particularly important since many cancer deaths are caused by the spread of tumour cells.
The researchers are now working on making a concentrated dose of the most effective EDP-EAs.
The Next Steps
Once this concentrated dose of endocannabinoids is created, the researchers plan to test it on dogs. Like humans, dogs spontaneously develop osteosarcoma and are often thought to be a better animal model than mice for understanding how a drug could affect humans.
The researchers are also planning to investigate the effects of EDP-EAs on other forms of cancer.