Cannabis Patient Care - March/April 2021

Cannabis Patient Care - March/April 2021

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14 cannabis patient care | vol. 2 no. 1 patient focus Cannabis as the Go-To Therapeutic: One Family's Personal Journey of Discovery B Y D A V I D H O D E S M ORE AND MORE RESEARCH in treating previous- ly untreatable diseases and conditions is accel- erating, in part because of new discoveries within certain plants such as cannabis, but also because of a general surge in life sciences research and discoveries. A unique motivating factor happened in early 2020. It was in February that life sciences researchers were handed a sig- nificant challenge to find a vaccine for a deadly novel virus. In record time, British researchers found the first successful treatment for COVID-19: a cheap steroid dexamethasone. That treatment has been credited with saving 650,000 lives across the world, according to an article in The Economist (1), and came about because of genetic sequencing. Today, genetic sequencing is being prioritized in labora- tories across the world to track both variants and reinfec- tions—a process that is spreading to other medical research as a result of the research into treatment for the virus. Even the cannabis genome has been sequenced. In the cannabis world, new discoveries about what can and will soon be treated are also coming fast and furious. Canna- bis has been proven effective for treating chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and a host of other human maladies (2). But what has really caught the attention of the medical community is the potential for cannabis to treat cancer. Ongo- ing studies are focusing on how cannabis can actually shrink tumors. It can be used successfully for treating the nausea that usually accompanies chemotherapy, and the anxiety of going through that process. For example, recommended drugs to treat prostate can- cer include abiraterone, an androgen biosynthesis inhibitor that works by decreasing the amount of certain hormones in the body (3). It comes with a long list of side effects, including confusion, vomiting, yellowing of the skin or eyes, swelling of the hands and feet, blood in the urine, and more. Another drug is nilutamide, used after prostate surgery to stop the growth and spread of cancer cells. It can cause life-threatening lung disease (4). Life sciences researchers following the "first, do no harm" creed of medicine are always in search of a way to avoid dev- astating side effects that could actually complicate can- cer treatment by creating other health issues for the patient. That's where cannabis comes in. The McKernan Family Story The McKernan family—brothers Brian, Brendan, and Kevin; sister Dr. Melissa McKernan-Pulliam (an electrophysiologist); and their parents Richard and Virginia—are life sciences explorers. The brothers and their father helped build three major companies: Packard Bioscience, a scientific instrumentation company run by Richard, an electrical engineer who had de- signed avionics for military jets; Agencourt Bioscience, one of the largest commercial genomic services company in the US; and Agencourt Personal Genomics, which developed the SOL- iD Next Generation Sequencing Platform that reduced the cost of genome sequencing by a factor of 100,000. All three were acquired by major life science companies— Packard Biosciences was acquired by PerkinElmer in 2001, Agencourt Bioscience was acquired by Beckman Coulter, Inc. in 2005, and Agencourt Personal Genomics was acquired by Applied Biosystems in 2006. Kevin McKernan stayed with Applied Biosystems after it ac- quired Agencourt Personal Genomics, working on worldwide sequencing development with another one of that company's acquisitions, Ion Torrent. Meanwhile, Brendan and older brother Brian formed Courta- gen Life Science in 2010 to move genome sequencing into the clinic to help kids with epilepsy, autism, and mitochondrial dis- ease. "We started seeing an overlap with the cannabis field be- cause a number of doctors and physicians began asking about alternative therapies to help those kids," said Brendan.

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