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University of Saskatchewan launches study of cannabis treatment for childhood epilepsy


SASKATOON, Feb 1, 2017 - The Pediatrics Department at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is launching a study examining the use of Cannabidiol (CBD) to treat children with medically intractable epilepsy and associated cognitive decline, after recently obtaining Health Canada approval to proceed.

The main goal of the study is to determine if high concentrated CBD oil can be used safely in children with epilepsy. Researchers also hope to determine optimal dosing and CBD oil’s impact on seizure control and quality of life.

Dr. Richard Huntsman, pediatric neurologist at the U of S, and Dr. Richard Tang-Wai, pediatric epileptologist, University of Alberta, will lead a multidisciplinary research group through a collaborative approach to expand knowledge of medical cannabis for use in human and veterinary applications. Supplying the CBD for the study is CanniMed Therapeutics Inc. of Saskatoon, a company with an extensive history of collaborative research with the U of S and the most experience in producing medical cannabis products in Canada.

Thirty children between the ages of one to 10 years will be recruited from sites across Canada, including the U of S, U of A, University of British Columbia, McGill University and Université de Montréal. The study will bring together a large group of experts in pediatric neurology, pharmacology, pharmacy, clinical biochemical analysis, psychology and biostatistics.

“Many of these children have adverse reactions to any of the treatments that we offer and they suffer significant side effects from them,” Huntsman said. “I believe we owe it to these children and their families to look at all potential treatment options, including cannabis-based products, if they can offer any hope of helping.”

He added that the parents he sees in clinic are often desperate for any treatment that can help their children.

“Parents are becoming more aware of the use of cannabis to treat epilepsy from social media and parent support groups,” said Tang-Wai. “Because there is little scientific evidence regarding the use of cannabis products in children, most physicians are reluctant to prescribe them, resulting in parents trying to make their own preparations at home or turning to suppliers who cannot verify the quality of their product. This adds to the urgency of doing studies like this.”

The study is financed entirely through support from the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan, the Durwood Seafoot Estate, the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation and the Savoy Foundation. External funding was important to the research group, which wanted to avoid any potential perceptions of bias or conflict of interest.

“This truly is a remarkable and exciting new opportunity for Canadian children and the research that is required to help them live happier and healthier lives,” said Brynn Boback-Lane, president and CEO of the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan. “Pediatric research is critical in the creation of improved treatments and lasting impact on children and their healthcare. We’re very pleased to support this important project that gives hope to so many, not only in Saskatchewan but right across the country. In fact, this is the kind of research that Saskatchewan can share throughout the world.”

“The research team that has been brought together for this research study is an important example of collaborative work that can be done at the University of Saskatchewan,” said Dr. Laurence Givelichian, head of the Department of Pediatrics.

This study has helped to launch the newly formed Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan, a research group including Drs. Huntsman and Tang-Wai, as well as Andrew Lyon, Darrell Mousseau, Blair Seifert and Jane Alcorn from the Colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy and Nutrition, as well as Veterinary Medicine. Through a collaborative research approach, this multidisciplinary group hopes to expand our knowledge of medical cannabis for use in human and veterinary applications.

The research team hopes to begin recruiting patients at the U of S site within the next two months.

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr. Huntsman or Dr. Tang-Wai, contact:

Kate Blau
Communications Specialist
College of Medicine
University of Saskatchewan
306-966-6059
kate.blau@usask.ca