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A New Treatment in a New Package for Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus


Findings from a mouse model suggest that encapsulating anandamide, an endocannabinoid, could be a way to make it an effective treatment for cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE).

When people smoke marijuana, they are activating the body’s endocannabinoid system, which has effects well beyond any high marijuana might give. The endocannabinoid has role in regulating everything from memory to pain to inflammation. The body produces molecules called endocannabinoids to send signals to and through the endocannabinoid system. And one of the most studied of the endocannabinoids is anandamide, which comes from the Sanskit word for “bliss.”

Researchers are trying to figure out to harness the power that anandamide has on the endocannabinoid system to treat diseases.

Findings presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology yesterday suggest that one possible application of anandamide might be as a topical treatment for cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE), a skin condition that consists of rashes, redness and lesions (sores). Results of this study suggest the trick to using anandamide for this purpose is delivering it in tiny silica pods so it penetrates the skin.

The positive findings are from experiments in mice so they are still preliminary. Three of investigators — Andrew Draganski, Ph.D., Adam Friedman, M.D., and Joel Friedman, M.D., Ph.D. — are listed as co-inventors of the encapsulating technology. Draganski is the director of product development of Zylö, a Greenville, South Carolina, company seeking to commercialize the technology. According to its website, Zylö has received National Institutes of Health grants, in collaboration with outside researchers, for research and development of topical version of Viagra (sildenafil) and an improved toenail fungus remedy. McCormick’s work was supported by Galderma, a Swiss dermatology company,

The poster that the anandamide findings were presented in won first place in the poster competition at the annual meeting.

Erika McCormick

Erika McCormick

Erika McCormick, a student at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and lead author on the poster, explained in an interview with Managed Healthcare Executive that CLE can occur independently of systemic lupus but affects about 85% of those with the systemic form of the autoimmune condition. McCormick said the CLE affects about 70 out of every 100,000 individuals in the U.S.

CLE is currently treated with corticosteroids and hydroxychloroquine. “Corticosteroids, although they are effective in many cases, you can use them only a few weeks at a time,” said McCormick. “So there’s sort of a Band-Aid on the problem rather than having a topical therapy that gets to the bottom of what the pathophysiology is.”

Anandamide is lipophilic, McCormick said, so it doesn’t travel well through the skin on its own. The technology that Draganski, Adam Friedman and Joel Friedman developed encases it in silica nanoparticles that can make their way through the skin and slowly release it.

McCormick and her colleagues reported the findings from experiments using the MRL/lpr mouse, which has been genetically modified to develop autoimmune disease and skin lesions that are similar to CLE. They conducted experiments testing the encapsulated anandamide when it was used on a prophylactic basis and as an intervention after lesions developed. They also tested the experimental treatment in a different type of genetically-modified mouse to see how well it penetrated the skin. Another experiment assessed cytokine levels in skin tissue to see if the encapsulated anandamide was dampening inflammatory processes.

The results point to the encapsulated anandamide being efficacious. McCormick said it was noteworthy that serum markers for inflammation didn’t appear to be affected. That suggests, she said, that the encapsulated anandamide was staying in the skin in the topical area where it was applied rather than having a systemic effect and off-target effects on other organs.

McCormick said that research results for this encapsulated form of anandamide had been presented in a rheumatology context but that this was the first time they had been presented in a dermatological one.

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