Dr. Eileen Denovan-Wright
Understanding cannabinoids :
Humans and all other vertebrate animals have receptors in their brains for cannabinoids, a large family of compounds occurring naturally in the cannabis plant and which can be synthesized in the lab. Dr. Eileen Denovan-Wright, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology at Dalhousie Medical School, wants to know more about these receptors as well as the potential effects of cannabinoids on brain health and disease over time.
"It's extremely important that we understand the effects these substances have on the brain, so we can harness the benefits and avoid the harms," says Dr. Denovan-Wright, who is also an associate dean in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at Dalhousie.
Dr. Denovan-Wright and fellow Dalhousie pharmacology professor, Dr. Melanie Kelly, are working with synthetic cannabinoid derivatives, in order to isolate and test their effects.
"Certain cannabinoids appear to have powerful immune-modulating effects on the brain," says Dr. Denovan-Wright. "This means they could play an important role in preventing or reversing inflammation in the brain."
Inflammation in the brain is a known risk factor for a host of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, ALS, and multiple sclerosis, as well as age-related cognitive decline.
Other cannabinoids may have harmful efforts on the brain over time - although the exact cannabinoids and all of their effects are not yet fully known or understood. With recreational cannabis use soon to be legal in Canada, it is increasingly important to find out.
Tissue analysis, such as that made possible with the Leica HistoCore PEARL, is critically important to this work.
"Tissue analysis allows us to identify where in the brain the highest concentrations of cannabinoid receptors are found and therefore what is their role," explains Dr. Denovan-Wright. "Cannabinoid receptors are not like most other receptors, they are much more complex. There is so much more to learn."