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How your skin cells can help you recover from cocaine addiction

By: Caine Meyers

Scientists at the University of Chicago may have found a promising treatment for cocaine addiction through genetic modification of skin cells.What if I told you that your own skill cells may help you break the cycle of cocaine addiction? Soon, people struggling with cocaine addiction may be recruited to test a new treatment that uses their own skin cells to combat their addiction. Indeed, through genetic engineering, scientists may be able to use skin cells to destroy cocaine before it reaches the reward centre of the brain. In trial, scientists would remove skill cells from patients and add in an extra gene. Consequently, this will program the skin cells to produce human butyrylcholerinase (hBChE), an enzyme that can easily destroy cocaine within the bloodstream. In a specialized cell housing disc, these cells would then multiply, stick together, and form an organoid (clump of cells). Next, this clump of cells would then be implanted permanently under the patient’s skin.

This type of genetic therapy has already been trialed in mice at the University of Chicago in Illinois. In fact, the therapy has proven to work in mouse models. Fascinatingly, mice who received the organoid implant under their skin, eliminated a standard dose of cocaine within 20 minutes. Further, the cocaine did not reach the reward centre of the mice and they received no “pleasure” from the drug. In control mice, it took approximately two hours for the body to eliminate the drug on its own, reaching the reward centre of the brain.

The mice who did not receive “pleasure hit” from cocaine did not engage in subsequent drug-seeking behaviour. This is unlike their control counterparts. Further, they did not preferentially visit previous areas in which they were given the doses of cocaine. Importantly, mice who received the organoid implant continued to seek out alcohol when given in conjunction with cocaine, demonstrating that the treatment targets cocaine addiction specifically.

Dr. Ming Xu, the individual who pioneered this treatment asserts that this treatment would produce similar outcomes in humans. “It will work, like in mice, by highly efficiently degrading cocaine as soon as it enters the blood circulation so that little would reach the brain.” He further stated that, “people addicted to cocaine would stop using it, and there would be no cocaine-induced relapses.” Excitingly, there are no other methods like this one approved by the FDA.

One of the largest implications of this study is that the mice with the implant survived large doses of cocaine. Control mice did not. Further, these mice are still healthy today with active organoids, suggesting that the treatment may protect individuals against overdose and the effects of treatment are long-lasting. John Marsden, a professor of addiction psychology at London Institute of Psychiatry believes that this treatment will be highly effective in conjunction with cognitive behavioural therapy.

Although, this treatment is still not available to the public, it is well underway. Indeed, it gives hope for those who deal with cocaine addiction everyday that a promising new treatment may be around the corner. Fortunately, there are other alternative treatments available in the interim. If you or a loved one are dealing with cocaine addiction, please contact us at Searidge Foundation today and begin recovery.

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National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers International Security for Traumatic Stress Studies The Canadian Positive Psychology Association The Association for Addiction Professionals