Promising Gene Therapy in Monkeys Offers To Cure Alcoholism

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A groundbreaking study involving rhesus macaque monkeys suggests that gene therapy could be an “incredibly effective” treatment to cure alcoholism.

Researchers conducted an experiment where they induced heavy alcohol consumption in eight monkeys over a span of six months. The aim was to investigate the potential of a gene therapy technique currently employed for Parkinson’s disease treatment as a solution for alcohol addiction.

Can Gene Therapy Cure Alcoholism?

Kathleen Grant, a neuroscientist at Oregon Health & Science University, expressed the challenge of treating alcohol use disorder, stating that while drugs can temporarily halt alcohol consumption, the desire to drink often overrides medication adherence.

Previous research had established that GDNF, a protein, can stimulate the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter central to addictive behavior.

In this study, the researchers employed magnetic resonance imaging to guide the injection of GDNF directly into the ventral tegmental area of the monkeys’ brains, a region responsible for dopamine production and distribution.

The results were remarkable. Grant reported that the gene therapy was “incredibly effective,” leading to a significant reduction in alcohol consumption, nearly to the point of complete abstinence. The treated monkeys preferred water over alcohol, and their blood-alcohol levels were nearly undetectable.

What’s even more promising is the long-lasting impact of the GDNF treatment. After a year, the four monkeys that received the treatment showed a reduction in alcohol use by more than 90%, in stark contrast to the control group of untreated monkeys.

It appeared that the treated monkeys had learned to disassociate pleasure from alcohol consumption.

Alcoholism is closely linked to dopamine’s role in reinforcing behavior and pleasure. Chronic alcohol use alters dopamine release, leading to a diminished sense of pleasure and an increased need to maintain an intoxicated state.

However, it’s essential to note that this promising gene therapy is not yet ready for human trials. Furthermore, if it were to be employed in humans, it would only be considered for the most severe cases of alcoholism.

This is due to the fact that the treatment is irreversible and causes permanent alterations in the brain, raising ethical and medical concerns. Grant emphasized that it would be a last resort for individuals who have exhausted all conventional treatment options and are at risk of causing harm to themselves or others due to their alcohol addiction.

In conclusion, this pioneering research suggests that gene therapy targeting the brain’s dopamine system holds significant promise as a potential treatment for severe alcoholism.

While it is not yet suitable for human use, it offers hope for individuals who have struggled with addiction and found little relief from existing therapies.

Share your thoughts if the gene therapy can cure alcoholism or not?


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