Cannabis compounds are being used to tackle kidney failure amongst diabetics in a major new research project.
Researchers working on the Aberdeen University study, which is funded by Diabetes UK, will explore whether synthetic cannabinoid compounds can be used to make the kidneys respond better to insulin.
Active ingredients in the cannabis plant are already known to have beneficial effects for treatment of a number of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.
They do this by acting on the body’s own endocannabinoid-system, which is made up of CB1 and CB2 receptors.
CB1 and CB2 receptors are found in kidney cells with CB1 being increased in patients experiencing kidney failure due to diabetes and CB2 being decreased in the same condition
Dr Mirela Delibegovic, who is leading the research, said: “New evidence suggests that to combat diabetes and its complications, we want to block CB1 receptors and activate CB2, and we think these novel compounds could allow us to do this.”
“Diabetic nephropathy can lead to patients requiring dialysis or renal transplantation, therefore identifying if novel cannabinoid compounds can be used to ameliorate this disease is of upmost importance.
“There are already some cannabanoids used to treat inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, so these compounds could be taken relatively fast from benchside to bedside.”
Around 3.2 million people in the UK have diabetes and it is estimated the number will rise to 5 million by 2025.
Around 40 per cent of diabetic patients will go on to develop kidney failure.
The research team at Aberdeen University -led by Dr Delibegovic, together with Prof Roger Pertwee and Dr Maria Cascio - are collaborating with Bristol University who have been given access to human cells from patients with kidney disease.
The new cannabinoids will be used to see if they improve insulin sensitivity in these cells. The ones that show improvement in human cell lines will then be tested in mice to allow for further exploration.