Is it possible that the answer to drug addiction lies in the cells of your skin?
Recent research suggests that may indeed be a possibility.
Addiction is a huge problem in the US, and overdose deaths are on the rise. As it stands now, there are not any medications or vaccines that people can take to either avoid or end addiction, aside from medications that are useful in detoxing or long-term management.
That might all change in the near future thanks to emerging evidence showing that gene therapy skin grafts may have a positive impact on addictive behaviors.
New Study Finds Promise in Gene Therapy For Addiction
A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) found that cocaine-addicted mice who were administered grafted skin cells modified with a specific gene therapy showed a reduced desire for the drug and even expressed lower incidences of overdoses.
Researchers transplanted skin cells that were modified to express a different form of butyrylcholinesterase, which is an enzyme that breaks down cocaine. That, in turn, allows this important enzyme to be released over the long term to protect the mice from constantly seeking the use of cocaine as well as from overdosing.
Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) is highly effective at quickly breaking down cocaine. However, the enzyme did not last very long to help the addicted mice when it was administered. To get around this issue, the scientists used the CRISPR gene editing system to introduce DNA for the enzyme. By encoding the enzyme genes into the cells of the mice, the enzyme lasted much longer in the body without disturbing the rest of the DNA.
Not only did the mice no longer show any desire for the cocaine, but they were also able to survive extremely high doses of cocaine that would otherwise have killed them.
Could this mark the beginning of a promising form of addiction treatment for drugs like cocaine and others similar to it?
Cocaine Misuse on the Rise
The opioid epidemic in the country has been making headline news over the recent past, overshadowing the hazards of cocaine. However, the latter drug is not only still widely used, but it may even be on the rise according to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Over 14,500 Americans perished at the hands of cocaine last year. Even though that number is far lower than the roughly 72,000 Americans who overdosed on opioids in the same year, these lives still matter. Any therapy that can curb or even prevent such deaths from occurring is welcomed.
The access to Naloxone has proved to be a lifesaver for many who use opioids. More specifically, about 27,000 Americans were saved in 2015 thanks to the quick administration of Naloxone. For cocaine, no such type of medication exists.
Right now, there are no medications designed to stop a cocaine overdose in its tracks. Further, there is not really anything as powerful as methadone — which is used to minimize withdrawal symptoms among those detoxing from opioids — for those trying to wean themselves off of cocaine.
With the emergence of genome-edited skin stem cells, perhaps a lifesaving cocaine addiction treatment may be on the horizon for those addicted to cocaine and similar drugs.
Do You Suffer From a Substance Use Disorder?
If you or any of your loved ones are suffering from an addiction, you do not have to go it alone. There are several Colorado addiction treatment resources available to help. Contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake today to speak with an associate who can guide you in the right direction and get you the help you need to start on your recovery journey.