For his work on the cardiovascular activity of cannabinoids (chemical compounds derived from cannabis), Yehoshua Maor was one of the winners of this year's Kaye Innovation Awards, presented on June 13 during the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's 69th meeting of the Board of Governors.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) accounts for about one-third of all deaths in industrialized countries, and is the leading reason for visits there to physicians as well as for drug prescriptions. However, not all patients respond well to the drugs available. There is no "ideal' hypotensive (blood pressure lowering) drug.
The cannabis plant – also known as hashish or marijuana – through its chemical compounds -- cannabinoids -- has been shown to have a beneficial, hypotensive effect. However, a drawback in the therapeutic use of cannabinoids has been its undesirable psychotropic properties – production of hallucinatory effects. Attempts to separate the hypotensive action from the psychotropic properties of cannabinoids have achieved only partial success until now.
Working under the supervision of Prof. Raphael Mechoulam at the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy, Maor, who was born in Brazil and immigrated to Israel in 1998, has created a synthetic version of a minor cannabis constituent named cannabigerol, which is devoid of psychotropic activity.
In laboratory experiments with rats in collaboration with Prof. Michal Horowitz of the Department of Environmental Physiology, it was found that this novel compound reduced blood pressure when administered to the rats in relatively low doses. Additional testing also showed that the compound also brought about another beneficial effect -- relaxation of the blood vessels. A further beneficial property observed in work carried out with Prof. Ruth Gallily of the Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology, was that the compounds produced an anti-inflammatory response.
Maor believes that these qualities have the potential for development of a valuable new clinical drug with a major market potential, especially for patients suffering from inflammation of the blood vessels as the result of hypertension, and others with metabolic irregularities.
Maor already has won international recognition for his work with cannabanoids, resulting from his collaborative work with Garry Milman, another Ph.D. student in the laboratory of Prof. Mechoulam, for the discovery of an endogenous compound found in the brain which causes vaso-relaxation.
Maor begin a post-doctoral fellowship in the fall at the Harvard University Medical School, where he plans to continue his research.