Cardiff University Research Finds Potential Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

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By Pakinee Pooprasert

A team of researchers at Cardiff University have discovered a revolutionary new drug treatment that could potentially be used to treat cocaine addiction.

Cocaine addiction is a prevalent problem in the UK, and an alarming one; it has been reported that UK has the highest rate of cocaine use among young adults in Europe. Cocaine, also known as coke, is a strong stimulant and is commonly used as a recreational drug. It causes various physical symptoms, including a fast heart rate, sweating, dilated pupils, and in high doses, can result in very high blood pressure or body temperature. Even after a short period of use, it can be very addictive, and there is a high risk of dependence. Such reasons shed light upon how this new treatment could be a very important finding, and one that will definitely send out waves of repercussions.

The experimental therapy involves administering a drug currently used in cancer therapy trials to treat cocaine addiction by inhibiting memories responsible for cravings. This memory-related pathway, as supported by research, might explain for much of the addictive power of cocaine. Thus, the memories encoding drug-paired rewards might also account for the high rates of relapse.

Professor Riccardo Brambilla from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences described that “We have demonstrated that a single administration of a trial drug from the pharmacompany Pfizer can completely obliterate cocaine associated memories and significantly accelerate the end of drug seeking behaviour in animals. With this drug currently being used in cancer trials, it could be easily repositioned for treatment of cocaine addiction and other drugs of abuse.”

Pfizer, an American global pharmaceutical company is among the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical companies. It has produced many household medications and its drugs have been prescribed by doctors worldwide.

Cocaine’s addictive effect partially stems from its actions on the brain’s limbic system, a set of interconnected regions that is involved with pleasure and motivation. When a user uses cocaine, memories of the intense pleasure felt and the things associated with it are newly created. These long lasting memories and drug-associated cues are key to addiction, and explains why recreational drug users become compulsive drug addicts. To prevent relapse and maintain drug abstinence, these pathways may need to be tackled.

Dr. Stefania Fasano from Cardiff University further elaborated how because “drug use [is] recently on the rise, new treatments for breaking addiction are much needed. The availability of a powerful drug from Pfizer, already validated in humans, could speed up the clinical development of our findings.”

Since this was an experimental study in mice, conclusions can be made about cause and effect in this particular species. To fully comprehend the effect of this treatment in people, however, experimental human trials must be conducted. Yet, the results so far have been astonishingly promising, and if the trails prove to be successful, this treatment could potentially be used to combat other types of drug addiction.

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