Imperial College London

Cannabis pain insights and kidney disease discoveries: News from the College

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Man in gloves and mask looking at a cannabis bud

Here’s a batch of fresh news and announcements from across Imperial.

From insights into how cannabis dulls pain, to discoveries linking immune cells to inflammatory kidney disease, here is some quick-read news from across the College.

Cannabis compound blocks pain pathway

Small jar of oil marked 'CBD' next to cannabis leafAdvocates of cannabis have long cited the drug’s benefits in pain management. Now, new research from Imperial could help to explain these effects, by showing how one of the key active compounds, cannabidiol (CBD), acts on nerve cells.

A team led by Mikael Sodergren found that rat neurons cultured in the lab could be made less sensitive to capsaicin – the compound which gives chilies their heat. 

They found CBD blocked pain signalling pathways, with treated nerve cells seeing an influx of calcium and reduced levels of cAMP (a key signalling molecule in pain pathway), compared to untreated neurons.

According to the researchers, these findings shine a light on how cannabis compounds directly act on neurons, and may explain the therapeutic effect of CBD in patients with acute and chronic pain.

Read the full paper in the Journal of Pain Research: ‘CBD Effects on TRPV1 Signaling Pathways in Cultured DRG Neurons

Philip Leverhulme Prize

Dr Ana CaraianiDr Ana Caraiani, from the Department of Mathematics, has been awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize by the Leverhulme Trust. The 30 Prizes ‘recognise the achievement of outstanding researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future career is exceptionally promising’. Dr Caraiani receives £100,000 that can be used over two or three years to advance her research.

She said: “I am delighted at the news that I was awarded a Leverhulme Prize, particularly because it has been such a difficult year. I plan to use the prize funds to make up for the lost opportunities due to COVID-19 – in terms of travel, collaboration, and research time – for myself and particularly for my PhD students and postdoctoral associates.”

Read more on the Leverhulme Trust website.

Insights into kidney disease

Researchers have captured real-time images of white blood cell subsets behind an inflammatory kidney disease.

Glomerulonephritis (GN) is a condition that can damage the parts of the kidney that filter blood (called glomeruli), and is thought to be caused by overactive immune cells.

Using advanced imaging techniques in rats, an Imperial team was able to see different types of immune cells (called monocytes) as they patrol blood vessels monitoring vascular health in the glomeruli.

They found that a subtype of the cells, non-classical monocytes, produce signals that instruct other immune cells to attack the lining of the blood vessels, leading to inflammation underpinning GN.

The researchers hope their insights could lay the groundwork for more targeted therapies to treat monocyte-driven inflammatory disease.

Read the full paper, published in the journal JASN: ‘Live Imaging of Monocyte Subsets in Immune Complex-Mediated Glomerulonephritis Reveals Distinct Phenotypes and Effector Functions

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Image credits:

Top image: HQuality/Shutterstock

CBD image: Infinity Time/Shutterstock


Ryan O'Hare

Ryan O'Hare
Communications Division

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Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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Psychedelic-research, News-in-brief, Immune-system
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