Nottingham scientists hope to find out whether a compound found in cannabis can treat brain tumours – after a four-year-old Newark boy’s tumour shrank while he was taking the drug.
The non-psychoactive compound found in the plant, called cannabidiol, will now be tested for its effects on brain cancer cells in children by experts at the University of Nottingham’s Brain Tumour Research Centre.
The research and fundraising is being backed by four-year-old William Frost and his family after his condition improved during a course of the substance.
William was diagnosed with an ependymoma brain tumour three years ago and is being treated at the centre.
His father Steve said: “We were told half way through 2016 that nothing more could be done for William.
“We couldn’t bear to accept the news and decided to look into alternative treatments; the two options we started were a low carbohydrate (ketogenic) diet and cannabidiol.
“Six months later William’s tumour had shrunk by two thirds and he is slowly improving and attending school part time.”
Cannabidiol is being increasingly used by families of young tumour sufferers, often at great expense, despite the fact there is no hard evidence that it is of benefit or even what dose to use or how often.
The Nottingham study hopes to provide scientific proof either way for the first time.
Steve said he and his family know “how unpredictable William’s tumour type can be” and are continuously looking for treatment.
Steve said: “We couldn’t just sit back and hope.
“That’s why we championed this research project so that we can find out if the cannabidiol contributed to the reduction.
“We’re hoping that funds can be found to make this research happen so that William and other families in our situation can benefit.”
Professor Richard Grundy is leading the research project and said: “Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children in the UK but the disease receives less than one per cent of the UK’s cancer research funding.
“New ways to treat childhood brain tumours are urgently needed to extend and improve the quality of life in malignant brain tumour patients.
“It’s very important to obtain objective scientific evidence of whether CBD (cannabidiol) is active against children’s brain tumour cell lines.”
The research team will grow cells from tumours under standard lab conditions – with some sets having CBD added and some not.
After seven days, the scientists will then measure the level of death in the cells and analyse how many tumour cells there are in each set.
Professor Grundy said: “We expect the cells, brain tumour and normal brain, grown in our standard conditions to be healthy and actively dividing.
“We expect that normal brain cells grown in cannabidiol will remain healthy.
“However, we expect the brain tumour cells grown in cannabidiol to stop growing and die.”