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Gene therapy fights alcohol use disorder with new approach

  • 2 Min To Read
  • 9 months ago

A recent study conducted by researchers from Oregon Health & Science University suggests that a type of gene therapy could potentially reduce drinking in individuals with severe alcohol use disorder. The therapy involved implanting a harmless virus carrying a specific gene into the brains of rhesus monkeys that were conditioned to consume a high volume of alcohol daily. The gene targeted the brain region responsible for regulating dopamine, which is associated with feelings of reward and pleasure.

The researchers aimed to determine whether normalizing the dopamine levels in the brain's motivational areas could mitigate the motivation to overdrink or consume alcohol heavily. The study, led by Kathleen Grant, PhD, a professor and chief of the Division of Neuroscience at Oregon National Primate Research Center, achieved promising results. The monkeys that received the growth factor gene saw a significant decrease in their alcohol consumption, with some effectively quitting drinking altogether. In contrast, the monkeys that received a placebo resumed their drinking habits.

The need for effective alcohol use disorder treatments is pressing, as alcohol-related deaths in the United States have been on the rise, particularly among women. According to data from the National Institutes of Health, there were 108,791 alcohol-related deaths in 2021 alone, surpassing the number of drug overdoses recorded in the same year.

While the study's findings are encouraging, further research is required before this gene therapy can be applied to humans with alcohol use disorder. The treatment involves invasive brain surgery, which carries risks and would likely be reserved for individuals with severe, life-threatening drinking habits.

Currently, there are limited treatment options for alcohol use disorder, and they are underutilized. Only 4.6% of individuals with alcohol use disorder seek treatment each year, according to data from the NIH. The ubiquity and acceptance of alcohol in American culture, as well as the difficulty individuals face in acknowledging their alcohol-related problems, contribute to the low treatment-seeking rates.

However, ongoing research offers hope for the future of alcohol use disorder treatments. Some promising developments include the use of hallucinogens, epigenetic editing, oxytocin, and ghrelin to curb drinking. These approaches require further study and clinical trials in humans before they can be widely implemented.

In conclusion, the recent study on gene therapy for alcohol use disorder shows promising results in reducing alcohol consumption in primates. However, more research is needed before this therapy can be applied to humans. The current treatment options for alcohol use disorder are underutilized, and further developments in the field offer hope for improved and more accessible treatments in the future.

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