Sean McAllister, Ph.D., Senior Scientist

California Pacific CURRENTS: The online journal of CPMC Research Institute

Discovery and early development of non-psychotropic cannabinoids, novel cannabinoid analogs, and drug combinations to treat breast cancer and brain gliomas
  • Cannabidiol stimulates the production of reactive oxygen species in breast cancer

    Cannabidiol stimulates the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in triple negative breast cancer cells.  The McAllister lab and colleagues have shown that this effect leads to cell death in breast cancer and glioma1,2.  Human MDA-MB231 breast cancer cells were treated with the naturally occurring cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD) and the production of ROS was measured using cell flow cytometry.


    1. McAllister SD, Murase R, Christian RT, Lau D, Zielinski AJ, Allison J, Almanza C, Pakdel A, Lee J, Limbad C, Liu Y, Debs RJ, Moore DH, Desprez PY. Pathways mediating the effects of cannabidiol on the reduction of breast cancer cell proliferation, invasion, and metastasis. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2010;129(1):37-47. Epub 2010 Sep 22. PMCID: PMC3410650.
    2. Marcu JP, Christian RT, Lau D, Zielinski AJ, Horowitz MP, Lee J, Pakdel A, Limbad C, Moore DH, Yount GL, Desprez PY and McAllister SD. Cannabidiol enhances the inhibitory effects of D9-tetrahydrocannabinol on human glioblastoma cell proliferation and survival. Molecular Cancer Therapeutics 2010;9(1):180-9. PMCID: PMC2806496




Research Overview

The McAllister lab focuses on the endocannabinoid system and how it controls cell growth and programmed cell death, particularly in aggressive cancers.

  • Dr. McAllister and colleagues have combined CB1 and CB2 (cloned cannabinoid receptor) agonists with non-psychotropic cannabinoids, to synergistically increase their anticancer effects in cell lines and animal models.
  • The non-toxic and non-psychotropic cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) inhibits human breast cancer cell proliferation and invasion through differential modulation of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) pathways. Both pathways lead to down-regulation of Id-1 expression implicated in aggressive or metastatic cancers of the breast and brain.
  • Ongoing collaboration with CPMCRI investigator Dr. Pierre Desprez is further exploring how CBD regulates the expression of Id-1 genes and proteins in breast, brain and other cancers, and how the cannabis compounds may be combined with other treatments for several tumor types—which may lead to more effective cancer therapies.
  • Dr. McAllister leads pharmacologic testing and colorectal cancer efforts for CPMCRI's Cancer Avatar Project.


Dr. McAllister earned his bachelor's degree in Biology and his doctoral degree in Pharmacology and Toxicology from the Medical College of Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. McAllister's doctoral research focused on the interactions of cannabinoids with their endogenous receptors. He completed postdoctoral training at the Forbes Norris Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Research Center.


Publication Search


de Semir D, Bezrookove V, Nosrati M, Dar AA, Wu C, Shen J, Rieken C, Venkatasubramanian M, Miller JR 3rd, Desprez PY, McAllister S, Soroceanu L, Debs RJ, Salomonis N, Schadendorf D, Cleaver JE, Kashani-Sabet M, PHIP as a therapeutic target for driver-negative subtypes of melanoma, breast, and lung cancer. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Beam JP, Scott JJ, McAllister SM, Chan CS, McManus J, Meysman FJR, Emerson D, Biological rejuvenation of iron oxides in bioturbated marine sediments. ISME J

Chiu BK, Kato S, McAllister SM, Field EK, Chan CS, Novel Pelagic Iron-Oxidizing Zetaproteobacteria from the Chesapeake Bay Oxic-Anoxic Transition Zone. Front Microbiol

Murase R, Sumida T, Kawamura R, Onishi-Ishikawa A, Hamakawa H, McAllister SD, Desprez PY, Suppression of invasion and metastasis in aggressive salivary cancer cells through targeted inhibition of ID1 gene expression. Cancer Lett

Sean McAllister, Ph.D., Senior Scientist
Primary Research Interests
  • Understanding the mechanisms involved in cannabinoid control of cancer progression
  • Discovery and early development of non-psychotropic cannabinoid anti-tumor agents
  • Development of novel cannabinoid analogs and cannabinoid delivery systems
  • Drug combination therapies to treat breast cancer and brain gliomas

Lab Members

Eric Singer
Research Technician
Jennifer Tran
Research Volunteer
Ari Nazarian
Research Volunteer