A Chemical In The Cannabis Plant Shows Promise In Treating Pancreatic Cancer, According To Harvard Researchers

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat.

the cannabis plant without flowers
7raysmarketing / Pixabay

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat.

A chemical in the cannabis plant has shown promise in treating pancreatic cancer, according to Harvard researchers who published their findings this week, Yahoo Lifestyle reports.

FBL-03G is a so-called “flavonoid” in the cannabis plant — flavonoids being compounds found in plants that, among other things, give them their colors. They’ve long been a source of promise in the medical research community, ever since their discovery in 1986.

However, flavonoids make up only a tiny percentage of a plant, meaning that an entire field would have to be grown in order for researchers to have enough to study. However, scientists have recently figured out a way to artificially synthesize cannabis flavonoids, making it easier for scientists to study their potential benefits.

And so it was that Dr. Wilfred Ngwa and his team at Harvard University’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute were able to isolate the promising chemical and look into its potential at treating pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is generally considered one of the most virulent of all cancers, with a survival rate of 20 percent after one year of diagnosis, and only nine percent after five years. It’s predicted to be the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., after lung cancer, according to The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

That’s why the breakthrough found by Dr. Ngwa and his team is so significant: pancreatic cancer is generally hostile to most forms of cancer therapy.

Dr. Ngwa explains how the chemical works on cancer cells.

“Tumor-targeted delivery of flavonoids, derived from cannabis, enabled both local and metastatic tumor cell kill, significantly increasing survival from pancreatic cancer.”

What’s more, the cannabis derivative’s cancer-fighting scope extends beyond just that of the pancreas.

“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,” Ngwa says.

In other words, FBL-03G may treat more than just pancreatic cancer. What’s more, it’s a potential boon to pancreatic cancer patients because the disease often isn’t diagnosed until after it’s had a chance to spread beyond the pancreas; by treating cancer cells outside of the pancreas, it could, theoretically, prevent or even reverse metastasis.

How long until the treatment becomes available to patients is unclear. Dr. Ngwa and his team will have to conduct pre-clinical studies, which Dr. Ngwa hopes to have completed by 2020. That will be followed by a period of clinical trials on humans, a process that has no specific time-frame for how long it would last.