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A new study has found that an extract derived from the Cannabis sativa plant can inhibit the growth of melanoma cells and trigger cell death. The next step is to develop a targeted delivery system before moving on to pre-clinical trials and investigating whether the extract can be used to treat other types of cancers.

Melanoma might only account for around 6% of skin cancers, but it’s the cause of more than 80% of skin cancer deaths. This cancer is prone to metastasizing and has been shown to be highly resistant to traditional treatments. In a new study, researchers from Charles Darwin University (CDU) and RMIT in Australia have developed a non-traditional treatment: a cannabis extract that stops melanoma cells from dividing and triggers the process of programmed cell death.

“The damage to the melanoma cell prevents it from dividing into new cells, and instead begins a programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis,” said Nazim Nassar, a co-corresponding author on the study. “This is a growing area of important research because we need to understand cannabis extracts as much as possible, especially their potential to function as anticancer agents. If we know how they react to cancer cells, particularly in the cause of cell death, we can refine treatment techniques to be more specific, responsive and effective.”

Previous studies have suggested that certain compounds present in cannabis may have antitumor effects by acting on receptors in the endogenous cannabinoid – or endocannabinoid – system (ECS). The cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, widely distributed in the central nervous and peripheral immune systems, influence various intracellular signaling pathways that regulate different processes, including gene transcription, cell motility, and apoptosis.

In the current study, the researchers tested the effect of PHEC-66, an extract derived from Cannabis sativa, on the growth of primary and secondary (metastatic) human melanoma cells. They found that PHEC-66 impeded the growth of all melanoma cell lines by interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors. They also found that PHEC-66 inhibited the progression of the cell cycle, the series of events that takes place as a cell grows and divides. The sub-G1 and G1 phases were particularly affected; the G1 phase is when the cell prepares to divide by copying all of its DNA. In addition, the researchers observed that PHEC-66 influenced metabolic pathways by causing an accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the melanoma cells, pushing them towards pro-apoptotic signaling pathways, while diminishing anti-apoptotic ones.

“All these actions together start the process of apoptosis and slow down the growth of melanoma cells,” said the researchers.

The next step is to develop a targeted delivery system to deliver the extract to the melanoma cells in the body so that the researchers can proceed to pre-clinical trials to test PHEC-66’s safety and efficacy.

“Advanced delivery systems still need to be fully developed, underscoring the importance of ongoing efforts to ensure the proper and effective use of these agents at target sites,” Nassar said.

The study’s findings have the potential to advance treatments not only for melanoma but also for other types of cancer.

“Clinical uses of cannabis extracts include treatment for anxiety, cancer-related symptoms, epilepsy, and chronic pain,” said Nassar. “Intensive research into its potential for killing melanoma cells is only the start as we investigate how this knowledge can be applied to treating different kinds of cancers.”

The study was published in the journal Cells.

Source: CDU