Oral cancer is a painful disease, affecting 45,750 new patients each year in the United States. Cannabinoids (CBs) represent one alternative to opioid painkillers, which become less effective over time, though CBs come with their own set of psychotropic side effects.
Now, researchers have developed peripherally restricted CBs (PRCBs) that are free of nervous system side effects—and they have a $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute to test them for oral cancer and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) pain reduction.
“With this funding, we propose to broaden our research to determine the antitumor potential of PRCBs, their effectiveness against cancer pain, and also against chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain,” said Brian L. Schmidt, DDS, MD, PhD, professor of the New York University College of Dentistry department of oral and maxillofacial surgery.
Schmidt, who also is the director of both the New York University Bluestone Center for Clinical Research and Oral Cancer Center, is working with Igor Spigelman, PhD, professor in the division of oral biology and medicine at the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry.
First, the researchers will examine the efficacy of novel PRCBs against the chronic pain symptoms of oral cancer. They hypothesize that decreasing sensor fiber activation and reducing the tumor burden can alleviate cancer pain. Also, they will monitor the possible development of tolerance to PRCB treatment.
Second, they will examine the effects of novel PRCBs on the proliferation and apoptosis of human oral carcinoma cell lines. Using sensors that can monitor the reduction of tumor’s size or growth rate in real time, the researchers will measure the dose-response rates of the synthetic CBs being administered.
Third, they will determine the effectiveness of PRCBs to suppress or prevent the painful symptoms of CPINs without the psychotropic effects of traditional CB treatment. These synthetic CBs suppress CIPN symptoms in male rats via CB1 receptor activation without producing central nervous system side effects or tolerance to daily dosing.
“We will be looking at how the synthetic CB moves through and out of the body, charting the time-course of its absorption, bioavailability, distribution within the tissues, and measuring the body’s ability to effectively metabolize the drug,” said Schmidt.
“We are keenly interested to determine if pretreatment with PRCBs may actually prevent oral cancer pain and reduced oral cancer proliferation,” said Schmidt. “Successful completion of the proposed studies would allow us to translate preclinical findings to a clinical trial; thus this work would improve outcomes for cancer patients.”