Augusta University researchers find potential lung cancer treatment in CBD

Evila Salles, from left, Babak Baban and L.E. Wang, photographed in their lab on the Augusta University Health Sciences campus in Augusta.
Evila Salles, from left, Babak Baban and L.E. Wang, photographed in their lab on the Augusta University Health Sciences campus in Augusta.

Researchers at Augusta University are finding new potential treatments for lung cancer in an ancient drug called CBD, the increasingly popular cannabis compound.

"It is a new, old drug," said professor Babak Baban, one of the authors of a new paper on the subject and associate dean for research at the Dental College of Georgia. "It has been around ... at least 6,000 years we know about."

Baban, who on Friday sported a lapel pin of DNA on one side of his white coat and a cannabis leaf on the other, first became interested in studying CBD in 2014. He worked on it as a potential treatment for melanoma skin cancer, and promising results made him want to dig deeper into the compound. In particular, he wanted to research how the compound might work in diseases where inflammation plays a major role.

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Short term inflammation, Baban said, is a necessary part of a healthy immune response, but if it becomes chronic, it can become a serious issue and even contribute to the cancer. The goal, Baban said, is to regulate the inflammation without suppressing the immune system.

"Good inflammation is short, optimal and acute, and bad inflammation is long, chronic, unleashed," he said. "It is exactly like a pit bull, basically. If it likes you, it's your best friend. If he doesn't like you, it will tear you apart."

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CBD, it seemed, could help regulate the inflammation and provide potentially innovative ways to address cancer. The researchers selected lung cancer, as it was both particularly common and deadly.

"We picked those with the highest need for some sort of innovative treatment," Baban said. "Lung cancer is one of those cancers which, although it has seen a lot of advancements and progress in the treatment and education of people, still there is a dire need for innovative thought."

A "comprehensive team" to study lung cancer

The team included a number of researchers. A paper detailing their findings, published in "Human Cell," has 16 coauthors, including Dental and Medical College of Georgia researchers, Virginia Commonwealth researches and those from the European Medical Association.

"It's very complex dealing with CBD ... we still don't know many things about CBD," Baban said. Treating with CBD also comes with social and legal challenges. He added, "We wanted to have, as much as possible, the comprehensive team."

Researchers grafted the lung cancer into mice. Then, using a standard medical inhaler (with an adaptor for the mice), treated some with a CBD spray and some with a placebo of hemp oil. The results, from tumor size to necrotic tissue to the growth of blood vessels in the tumor, were better in the treated mice.

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On average, the untreated mice had tumors 16.1 millimeters in size, while the treated mice had an average tumor size of 6 millimeters.

"It is exciting when you see such a difference and you can repeat it," said Baban, who added that because the study used human tumors grafted into the mice, it suggests there may be a clinical application for humans.

That is the next step in the research, Baban said, seeking approval for a small clinical trial with the Georgia Cancer Center. He also wants to see if the CBD treatment is effective for other kinds of lung cancer as well, and is waiting for another paper to publish on the interaction between CBD and cancerous cells.

"I think it is a powerful drug," Baban said. "... It's like every other thing, it has advantages, and I'm sure there are disadvantages. We're trying to find out both."

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: CBD may help treat lung cancer, AU researchers show in paper