A New Ally Discovered In The Battle Against Drug Addiction

People of all socio-economic status, not restricting to just the rich and famous, today use cocaine, also called the ‘Champagne of drugs’. Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that has gratifying yet dangerous short-term effects, and devastating long-term effects. Cocaine toxicity affects the cardiovascular system, liver, and brain causing an increased risk of heart attacks, chest pain, respiratory failure, strokes, and abdominal pain and nausea. Chronic heavy use impairs mental dexterity, verbal memory, and problem solving skills for up to a month after using the drug. Cocaine psychosis is also a commonly noted long-term manifestation.

Breaking cocaine addiction has a positive effect not just on individuals, but the society on the whole. In a recent study, researchers found that a bacterial enzyme may have properties that break cocaine habit.

Cocaine esterase (CocE) is a naturally occurring bacterial enzyme that breaks down cocaine, thereby reducing its addictive properties. However, its short half-life in the body limits the efficacy of CocE in animals and its suitability for treatment of addiction. To overcome this problem, researchers developed a more stable version of CocE, double mutant or DM CocE that has a longer half-life and therefore has a greater potential to break down cocaine and thereby the desire for cocaine consumption. DM CocE also prevented death from cocaine overdose.

The study was conducted on rats which were trained to self-administer cocaine by pressing a button in their cage, mimicking the actions of a cocaine addict.  Researchers observed that rats treated with DM CocE pressed the button for cocaine fewer number of times when compared to their counterparts.

This study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and reviewed by Faculty of 1000 Medicine’s Friedbert Weiss, demonstrates that DM-CocE decreased the rats’ urge for cocaine but not for an addictive analogue, highlighting the degree of specificity for cocaine. Weiss notes that the DM-CocE enzyme also provides “long-lasting protection” against the toxic effects of a potentially lethal dose. That said, Weiss still believes that CocE shows great promise in drug abuse treatment.

Weiss says, “These therapeutic approaches may not be “fail-safe” for reducing cocaine intake by determined users but long-acting forms of CocE represent potentially valuable treatment approaches not only for the prevention of cocaine-induced toxicity but also for ongoing cocaine abuse in humans.”

Article by Snigdha Taduri for Biomed-ME