Stem Cell Treatment for Cocaine Addiction Sherman MaK

Overcoming drug abuse is an uphill battle, especially if the drug is cocaine. According to Dr. Scot Thomas, “Over 14 percent of all Americans age 12 and older have used cocaine in their lifetimes.5” Cocaine addicts often struggle to abstain from drug use but in current times, no effective and scientifically-approved medication that addresses coke addiction and relapse exists.3 Scientists have been working to change that and they have made a great leap forward in the fight against cocaine addiction and relapse after discovering a treatment involving epidermal stem cells: stem cells derived from the skin.

They have been researching a method to modify epidermal stem cells to express the enzyme human Butyrylcholinesterase (hBChE). hBChE is the more efficient and potent form of BChE, made naturally in a body's plasma cells, and it can break down cocaine into less toxic and less rewarding compounds, thereby decreasing a person’s urge to seek cocaine.3 The scientists modified epidermal stem cells using CRISPR, a practice that allows DNA sequences to be changed and genetic function to be manipulated.2 They used this technique to increase the efficiency of hBChE and to facilitate its long term production in epidermal stem cells. Then, the scientists transplanted these same stem cells into mice, and discovered that it prevented them from seeking cocaine and potentially overdosing on it. In order to see if the same effect occurred in human cells, the scientists transferred the same CRISPR-edited epidermal stem cells into human cells ex vivo. They discovered that higher amounts of hBChE were created and these broke down cocaine more efficiently.3

This study is extremely beneficial for cocaine abusers as we have discovered that epidermal stem cells could possibly help decrease their desire for cocaine. By preventing addicts from inflicting more damage to their bodies, this treatment could make them change their habits and help them get their lives back on track. It would help addicts that likely have financial struggles because they spend most of their money obtaining the drug regularly.5 Hence, if further experimentation transforms this into a proven medical treatment for humans, it would certainly be extremely beneficial to countless cocaine addicts and their families.

Given the potential benefits of this study, the question that remains is how would researchers test whether this treatment works for humans. It would raise a serious ethical question if scientists consider giving humans a large dose of cocaine and then treat them using this unproven stem cell study. The fact that scientists can experiment on people does not mean that they should given the uncertainty surrounding long-term effects of stem cell transplants. Studies indicate that potential long term effects, for example infertility and risk of cancer, occur years after one receives stem cell transplants.4 Consequently, scientists have to wait for years before accurately assessing the degrees of success of stem cell treatments. Despite these uncertainties, scientists should continue to explore possibilities to safely implement this treatment. They should not categorically reject the examination of this piece of research because every medical treatment that exists nowadays was in the same preliminary developmental stage at different points in history.


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