WASHINGTON (TIP): An oral drug that treats alcoholism and has very few side-effects may be available in five to six years, according to scientists, including one of Indian-origin, who have identified compounds that drastically reduced drinking in rats.
The exact causes of alcoholism are not well understood, but the urge to drink is related to the brain’s pleasure centres, according to V V N Phani Babu Tiruveedhula, graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Alcohol triggers the brain to release neurochemi cal dopamine. Some drugs available to treat alcoholism are aimed at dopamine.
“They dampen out the dopamine system a little bit, so you don’t get so happy when you have an alcoholic beverage,” said James Cook, a chemist at the University of Wisconsin, who advises Tiruveedhula. However, these medications, derived from a class of compounds called opioid antagonists, cause depression in some patients, Cook said. They are addictive themselves, which can lead to drug abuse. Valium is an example of another common drug used to treat alcoholism that is also addictive.
Looking for an alternative, Cook focused on molecules known to cause some of the same results as Valium and the opioid antagonists with out the unwanted side effects.
Tiruveedhula has now made several promising betacarboline compounds that could represent the future of alcoholism treatment.
Cook said these potential medications could be taken orally . In tests using rats bred to crave alcohol, the scientists found that administering these compounds drastically diminished the rats’ drinking. They observed very few of the side effects common to alcoholism treatment drugs, such as depression and losing the ability to experience pleasure. The drugs appeared to reduce anxiety in “alcoholic” rats, but not in control rats.
“What excites me is the compounds are orally active, and they don’t cause depression like some drugs do,” said Cook. The group is testing the compounds in additional animal studies. If everything works out, Cook said, a drug could be ready for the market in five to six years.