For this procedure, certain stem cells found in the skin were extracted, modified in vitro – outside of the human body – and grafted back onto the donor. This process is safer and cheaper than viral vector gene therapy, where genetic material is brought into cells by viruses. This study confirmed that the modified cells would not change the cells’ typical multiplication or specialization. Additionally, removing a skin graft is relatively simple, so any hypothetical errors can be dealt with quickly.
Cocaine is addictive because it increases the level of dopamine in the user’s brain. This results in more reward-related behaviors such as drug-seeking. Li et al. compared mice grafted with the hBChE-expressing cells and control mice. They found that when injected with cocaine, the experimental group removed cocaine from their system faster and had less dopamine in the reward pathway of the brain.
This study implies the possibility of reducing the rewarding aspect of cocaine in humans, preventing addiction before it occurs. If cocaine addiction can be prevented, then who should get this treatment? Should parents be “vaccinating” their kids against cocaine addiction? Future studies may find this to be a safe and cheap therapy for cocaine abuse, but for now, it would be realistic to see this technique as an effective prevention measure. Deciding for whom, however, presents an ethical dilemma.
Li, Y., Kong, Q., Yue, J., Gou, X., Xu, M., & Wu, X. (2018). Genome-edited skin epidermal stem cells protect mice from cocaine-seeking behaviour and cocaine overdose. Nature Biomedical Engineering, 3(2), 105-113. doi: 10.1038/s41551-018-0293-z
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