Hope for cure from cocaine addiction

Researchers say a radical gene therapy that helped mice beat cocaine addictions may hold promise for human treatment. 

In the proof-of-concept research stem cells were genetically engineered to release a powerful enzyme that breaks down the drug in the bloodstream. 

Mice implanted with the skin cells not only stopped seeking out the drug, they survived huge overdoses of the drug that killed all untreated animals. 

The paper, published online this week in Nature Biomedical Engineering, noted that further research was needed, but was hopeful that the approach may pave the way toward a new class of therapeutics for the long-term management of drug abuse. 

While it has been known for some time that the enzyme, butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), was efficient at breaking down cocaine, treatments apart from in the short-term, have been difficult owing to BChE’s short half-life. 

The new research led by Ming Xu, a professor of anaesthesia and critical care at the University of Chicago, may provide a way to provide the long-term release of the enzyme into the bloodstream.  

“Compared to other gene therapies, our approach is minimally invasive, long term, low maintenance and affordable. It’s very promising,” Xu told the Guardian newspaper.

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