Revolutionary Brain Treatment Brings Promise to Individuals Struggling with Alcoholism

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A study involving monkeys proposes that administering a brain injection might lead to a substantial 90 percent decrease in alcohol consumption among those struggling with alcoholism.

This technique utilizes an existing therapy already employed to manage Parkinson’s disease. The injection introduces a corrective gene into the brain circuitry of individuals contending with alcohol addiction.

The introduced gene prompts the production of a protein known as glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), which has a positive impact on dopamine levels.

The procedure was administered to macaque monkeys with alcohol dependency problems, resulting in a noteworthy reduction of over 90 percent in self-initiated alcohol intake, a reduction that persisted for multiple months according to the observations made by the researchers.

“Our findings suggest that this treatment can prevent relapse without requiring long-term treatment adherence by patients,” said Prof Krystof Bankiewicz, the co-author and a professor of neurological surgery at Ohio State University.

Direct brain delivery of the treatment is imperative due to the protein’s large size, preventing effective penetration through oral administration or a conventional injection.

The researchers hold the belief that this treatment could potentially be reconfiguring neurons within the brain. These neurons might have developed a dependence on alcohol as a means to stimulate dopamine production, a crucial hormone linked to feelings of happiness.

“Drinking went down to almost zero,” said Prof Kathleen Grant, a co-author and professor at the National Primate Research Centre of the Oregon Health and Science University, said after observing the effects of the jab on the alcoholic macaques.

“For months on end, these animals would choose to drink water and just avoid drinking alcohol altogether.

“They decreased their drinking to the point that it was so low we didn’t record a blood-alcohol level.”

Professor Grant further emphasized that the changes in dopamine production play a significant role in driving alcoholism and behaviors associated with it.

“Dopamine is involved in reinforcement of behaviour, and in people finding certain things pleasurable,” she said.

“Acute alcohol use can increase dopamine. However, by drinking it chronically, the brain adapts in such a way that it decreases the release of dopamine.

“So when people are addicted to alcohol, they don’t really feel more pleasure in drinking. It seems that they’re drinking more because they feel a need to maintain an intoxicated state.”

The findings are published in Nature Medicine.


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