After a successful attempt to reverse the effects of cocaine addiction in mice models, a University of Maryland scientist is looking to expand into opioid addiction.
Assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Medicine, Meaghan Creed, successfully reversed the effects of cocaine addiction, by combining electrical stimulation and drugs capable of reversing permanent changes in the brain related to cocaine addiction. The study could eventually lead the development of new substance abuse treatments.
Creed partnered with researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland for the study. The American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded Creed with a $25,000 prize for bringing awareness to the complicated and often misunderstood biology of addiction.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of accidental death in the United States is drug overdose, which claimed the lives of 85,495 people in 2015. Since 1999, the overdose death rate has quadrupled.
Maryland reported 550 overdose deaths in the first quarter of 2017. Fentanyl was linked to 372 of those deaths.
The findings from Creed’s past studies revealed that addictive agents permanently altered brain synapses, acting as “craving messengers.” She initially geared her research toward optogenetics, a biological technique that utilizes light to control neurons in the brain, to alter brain chemistry in addicted mice.
The research team introduced light-sensitive proteins into the brains of the addicted mice. Light was transmitted via an optic fiber to allow scientists to switch certain areas of their brains on and off. With optogenetics, the researchers manipulated glutamate, chemical messengers, to reverse the brain changes related to addiction.
Instead of utilizing optogenetics, which has not been approved for use in humans, the researchers turned to deep-brain stimulation. Electrodes were utilized to deliver an electrical current to specific areas of the brain. The technique has been utilized to treat Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy seizures.
By combining medication and deep-brain stimulation, the addicted mice responded to stimuli that reminded them of cocaine, just like mice that were never exposed to the drug.