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Band-Aids for Drug Abuse

Charlie anxiously drove his car through the dark streets. It was 2 a.m. and he was frantically looking for his brother. Eddie had been clean for over two years, yet here they were again. A nervous sigh broke from his chest as his eyes darted back and forth from the street to the alleys that branched out on either side. As Charlie searched for his brother through one of the roughest neighborhoods in Baltimore, he cursed the hold drugs had on Eddie. Charlie lamented the effect his addiction had on the entire family and confessed the fear that he would find Eddie had overdosed.

The family had been struggling with Eddie’s addiction for a long time. Drug abuse cripples the American population. People who suffer from addiction compulsively seek their high, and their behaviors have rippling effects on friends and family as well. Cocaine is one of the most commonly abused drugs, yet currently there are no medications available to treat ongoing use, relapse, or acute emergencies involving overdose. However, there may be hope. Charlie remembered a study he read about being conducted at the University of Chicago. Researchers there have found a way to protect the mice they use as test subjects from cocaine overdoses as well as curb their cocaine cravings.

To achieve this, Charlie read that the scientists take adult stem cells from the skin and genetically modify them to continuously release an enzyme that is already found in the body. This enzyme breaks down cocaine. They then take these altered cells and re-implant them using a skin graft. By giving mice both with and without the skin grafts lethal doses of cocaine, researchers tested the protective quality of the enzyme. The mice which received a skin graft proved to be nearly 100% resistant to cocaine overdoses. Could this bring Eddie from his deathbed if Charlie found him passed out in an alley?

Alone, this is an exciting discovery, but overdose is not the only symptom of cocaine abuse. Eddie has developed long-lasting, cocaine-seeking behaviors which often cause relapses, even after extended periods without the drug. To test whether the transplant helps protect against drug cravings, Charlie read that researchers used a test where animals learn to associate a room with a reward (cocaine). Normal mice spent more time in the room associated with cocaine, while the mice with the transplant did not show such a preference. This could indicate that the transplant might stop an addiction from forming.

This could be a cure for Eddie. The study said that mice with the grafts could potentially be ‘immune’ to further drug abuse. But would Eddie even want to become clean forever? Charlie wondered if he could force the treatment on his brother. Would Eddie then turn to another drug for his high? While Charlie was desperate for a successful treatment, he could see that this breakthrough was still only a Band-Aid for Eddie’s addiction.

Created By
Nicole Rizzuto
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Credits:

Created with images by Elijah O'Donnell - "untitled image" • jplenio - "road architecture city" • Robert-Owen-Wahl - "animal attractive beautiful" • Joel Filipe - "untitled image" • stevepb - "drugs cocaine user" • Corey Motta - "untitled image"

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