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Research indicates compound could combat drug addiction

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Research completed at the New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System may have yielded a lead on a drug that could curb substance addictions.

Neurologist and pharmacologist Dr. George Uhl led a research team in developing and testing a compound that appears to curb the influence of a gene linked to addiction susceptibility, at least in mice. The gene is known as tyrosine phosphatase D, or PTPRD.

“There has been no FDA-approved medication for stimulants at all,” Uhl said. “I think this is as promising as any other lead in this area, frankly.”

Mice that were pretreated with the compound, called 7-BIA, were less likely to self-administer cocaine by pressing a lever than those without it.

Part of Uhl’s research also further demonstrated the connection between PTPRD and addiction: Mice with only one copy of the gene – nearly all humans have two – also were less likely to self-administer the cocaine.

Uhl said it’s not practical to make 7-BIA into a drug because it’s gummy and doesn’t go into solution well, but he’s hopeful similar compounds can be fabricated.

Researchers examined the organs of the mice after the tests, and the compound did not appear to have any negative effects, Uhl said.

The “addicted” mice returned to normal lever-pressing behavior a couple of days later, he said.

The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America earlier this month.

“There is an opportunity for this to work for other addictions,” Uhl said.

His lab is testing the compound on other substance addictions, including alcohol and opiates.

Uhl said “optimistically,” a compound based on 7-BIA could begin in human trials as soon as five years from now.

The VA’s Veterans Health Administration saw 520,000 patients suffering from substance abuse disorders during the last fiscal year, according to VA spokeswoman Susan Carter, and spent nearly $60 million on substance abuse research.