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In a first for one of the partnerships created through the Research Without Borders initiative, a joint-research endeavour between investigators here at St. Boniface Hospital Research and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel, Dr. Hope Anderson and Dr. Yoram Etzion recently published findings on the endocannabinoid system as a therapeutic target, specifically with respect to atrial fibrillation (AF).

“The most devastating complications of AF are events such stroke and heart failure. Treatment approaches such as drugs and surgery do exist, but these are limited in effectiveness. In fact, the need for improved therapeutic options is well-recognized,” said Dr. Anderson.

As reported in the paper, drugs which activate cannabinoid (CB) receptors blocked changes in the heart, as well as signalling abnormalities that are hallmarks of AF, indicating these drugs may be a new treatment strategy to treat AF, and therefore warrant further study.

“The focus of the project on the cardiac endocannabinoid system, which is the expertise of Anderson’s lab, as a possible therapeutic target in atrial fibrillation, which is the main focus of my laboratory, has created a fruitful synergistic collaboration for both groups,” elaborated Dr. Etzion, who is an Associate Professor, Dept. of Physiology and Cell Biology and Head, Cardiac Arrhythmia Research Laboratory at BGU. “We hope that the current highly encouraging findings will lead to a long-standing collaboration that may eventually lead to critical therapeutic implications for AF patients,” he added. When feasible, the next steps include Dr. Etzion visiting St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre to assist Anderson’s lab in establishing his pioneering technology within its research program.

Work undertaken by Danielle Lee, a Ph.D. student in Anderson’s lab was vital to this development.

“I visited Ben Gurion University for a term in 2019 and was taught how to use their novel ex vivo tachypacing Langendorff technique. Further experiments conducted since my return to Winnipeg have demonstrated that CB13, a synthetic cannabinoid, altered tachypacing-induced atrial remodelling. CB13 prevented atrial effective refractory period shortening and altered Cx43. Additionally, CB13 also activated cardioprotective mediators in regards to metabolic dysfunction (e.g. AMPK and PGC1alpha). These findings are important as they demonstrate that cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoid therapies may be able to prevent atrial remodelling in patients suffering from atrial fibrillation,” she shared.