PRECISION USE OF CANNABIS FOR CANCER THERAPY: FROM EPIGENETICS TO EVIDENCE-BASED MEDICINE

DongPing Li1,2, Nuanying Zhang1, Megan Malach1, Marta Gerasimchuk1, Viktoriia Cherkasova1, Marina Galatonov1, Nina Takahashi1, Aleksei Sorokin1, Anna Kovalchuk3, Rocio Rodriguez Juarez1,2, Darryl Hudson2,3, Igor Kovalchuk1,2,3, Olga Kovalchuk1,2,3

1 Department of Biological Sciences, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, CANADA 
2 InPlanta Biotechnology, 16 Sandstone Rd. S., Lethbridge, AB, CANADA
3 Pathway Rx, 16 Sandstone Rd. S., Lethbridge, AB, CANADA


Cannabis sativa research is entering into a new phase in Canada and worldwide. With the recent legalization of cannabis, one of the big issues rearing its head is: how will consumers know their products are safe and created with their health in mind? Numerous Cannabis products claim diverse health benefits, ranging from treating pain to reducing inflammation. While this is incredibly exciting, given the wide range of conditions in which pain and inflammation are major features, have all of these products been researched to ensure their claims are rooted in scientific proof? While it is true that Cannabis can provide many health benefits, the fact remains that there are many Cannabis strains, each one with its own levels of THC, CBD, terpenes  (the molecules responsible for the distinct smell of each strain, as well for other added synergistic effects) and other molecules. Different strains, therefore, might have varying effects and different levels of impact when it comes to bettering health. 

Over the past three years we have generated several hundred novel cannabis hybrids. To analyze the potential medicinal properties of these plants, we have profiled over 200 whole flower ethanol extracts prepared from these new lines. 

We conducted rigorous testing of Cannabis strains using human cell cultures and 3D tissue models of healthy and diseased tissues. We analyzed anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties of Cannabis strains using global transcriptome profiling and an array of cell biology techniques. 

Specifically, we tested the extracts for anticancer activity using various breast and colon cancer, glioblastoma, neuroblastoma and other tumor cell lines. We identified a range of active concentrations for these extracts, performed cell cycle arrest analysis and MTT assay, and identified many extracts with significant effect, and  established their mechanisms of action via global transcriptome profiling. We have found that in most cases, whole flower extracts were dramatically more efficient than isolated cannabinoids. 

We have then analyzed cannabinoid and terpenoids profile of these extracts and attempted to identify common patterns in the presence of specific compounds and the activity of the extracts and identified several correlative patterns. Our data thus indicate that cannabis flower extracts can be very effective in killing cancer cells and that there might be a specific metabolic pattern that is an indicator of potential effectiveness of a given cannabis extract. 

Furthermore, using transcriptomic and epigenomic- approach, we have developed CannSelect – an algorithm allowing to select best cannabis extracts for precision medicine applications to treat cancer, aging and a variety of age-related diseases.  

Harnessing the many benefits Cannabis can offer through intensive research and development, we hope to improve people’s quality of life, impact longevity and lessen the burden of disease.