A team of scientists took a bunch of macaque monkeys, made them into alcoholics, and then successfully weaned them off the sauce after injecting their brains with a special gene — an experiment, detailed in a new paper published in Nature Medicine, that could potentially provide a compelling new treatment for addiction.
"Drinking went down to almost zero," Oregon Health and Science University professor and co-author Kathleen Grant told The Guardian. "For months on end, these animals would choose to drink water and just avoid drinking alcohol altogether."
The researchers set out with the premise that continued alcohol use causes changes to neurons and hampers the dopamine "reward circuitry" in the brain.
They took a gene for a protein known as a glial-derived neurotrophic factor — what they termed a "growth factor that enhances dopaminergic neuron function" — and inserted it into a harmless virus to act as a Trojan horse. They then plugged this gene into a part of the brain associated with rewards.
The experiment involved four hard-drinking macaque monkeys, which like some humans are predisposed to alcoholism, and then tracked their consumption.
The results were astounding: the monkeys were producing an abundance of dopamine and cut their drinking by 90 percent.
Basically, Grant told The Guardian, they went down to a reasonable one to two drinks a day from their hard-living high of eight to 10 drinks.
The treatment is particularly intriguing because it's already being tested on humans — on adults with Parkinson's disease and children with aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase deficiency, The Guardian reports — meaning the road to clinical trials to treat alcoholism in human patients could be smooth.
"We are entering an era of gene therapy for neurological disorders and perhaps psychiatric disorders, and I think this study is very promising in that direction," Grant told The Guardian.
Combating chronic alcoholism could not only reduce attendant conditions like cancer and fatty liver disease, but also potentially reduce DWIs and cut down its negative impact on the American economy. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that drinking costs Americans $249 billion in 2010, largely due to binge drinking.
And these numbers have likely gotten higher since people started day drinking more during the COVID pandemic, which will lead to more sick and dead — and making research like this more timely than ever.
More on gene therapy: Gene Therapy Gives Primates Young Eyes Again
Share This Article