A Murdoch Children’s Research Institute pilot study will explore the use of medicinal cannabis to reduce symptoms in children and adolescents who are undergoing palliative care for non-cancerous conditions.
The study has received $75,000 from the latest round of the State Government’s Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund (VMRAF) announced by Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford. Additional support has been provided by Victorian medicinal cannabis company Cannatrek.
The project, led by Murdoch Children’s Associate Professor Daryl Efron, will be the first in the world to investigate the feasibility and acceptability of a medicinal cannabis clinical trial into easing the symptoms of children undergoing palliative care for non-oncological conditions.
The study will involve 10 participants, aged six months to 21 years, who are receiving care in the Victorian Paediatric Palliative Care Program, and have symptoms that are affecting their quality of life. Recruitment for the trial will start later this year.
“The trial will evaluate the study design spanning recruitment strategy, medication tolerability, duration and outcomes to determine acceptability and feasibility for participating families and our research team,” Associate Professor Efron said. The data collected will then be used to design a full-scale multi-centre trial.”
Associate Professor Efron said paediatric patients undergoing palliative care experience a range of debilitating symptoms that have a significant impact on well-being and quality of life including pain, irritability, gastrointestinal symptoms, seizures, spasticity and dystonia.
“These symptoms are difficult to control with currently prescribed medications, most of which cause significant side-effects,” he said.
“Medicinal cannabis is a new therapy with great hope, but there is little evidence from clinical trials, particularly in children. In our experience, parents are interested in obtaining medicinal cannabis for their child’s symptoms, but physicians are reluctant to prescribe it because of the lack of quality research. There is an urgent need for clinical trials to properly evaluate the role of medicinal cannabis for use in these highly vulnerable patients.”
About 70 percent of patients managed by the Victorian paediatric palliative care service have non-oncological conditions including severe cerebral palsy, metabolic and genetic conditions, neurodegenerative disorders and progressive cardiac disease.
“If medicinal cannabis is shown to be effective it will represent an important treatment breakthrough for this patient group,” Associate Professor Efron said.
The study is part of an emerging program of research at the Murdoch Children’s into medicinal cannabis for children with an intellectual disability, Tourette Syndrome and other developmental conditions such as autism.
The trial is among 21 projects to receive a recent VMRAF grant, which supports both early-stage research and projects that are ready for commercialisation.
Minister Pulford said investing in local research keeps Melbourne among the best in the world for advancing medical breakthroughs.
“Future treatments and possible cures would not be possible unless we back the scientists and clinicians who work tirelessly to make an impact to the health of all Victorians,” she said.