Scientists Find a New Gene Therapy That May Help Treat Cocaine Addiction
Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina have discovered a new form of gene therapy called DREADDs that may be useful for the future of cocaine addiction treatment.
Using viruses, the researchers infected nerve cells in the brain with genes that activate brain receptors responsible for preventing relapse. This new gene therapy is called ‘designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs’, or DREADDs.
Because addiction works by ‘hijacking’ the brain, this therapy could prove useful by inhibiting the part of the brain that usually compels addicts to seek out drugs despite their desire to quit. In experiments using rats and cocaine, rats that received DREADDs were found to be less likely to relapse.
The gene therapy works on the part of the brain that controls ‘extinction memory’ – where we learn to disassociate addictive behaviour with pleasure and reward. But it does not work on emotional response, meaning methods like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) will still be necessary for completely effective drug addiction treatment.