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NIH awards Scripps Florida scientists $2.3 Million to develop drug addiction treatmen

By Balzafire, Jul 15, 2010 | | |
  1. Balzafire
    Expanded funding could help erase 30-year therapeutic drought

    JUPITER, FL, July 14, 2010 – For Immediate Release – A pair of scientists on the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute has been awarded a $2.3 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct research relevant to developing new treatments for drug addiction.

    Patricia McDonald, an associate scientific director in the Translational Research Institute at Scripps Florida and an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics, and Theodore Kamenecka, an associate scientific director in the Translational Research Institute, are co-principal investigators for the five-year project funded by the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

    The research will focus on indentifying compounds that affect the Neurotensin receptor (NTSR1), a receptor that appears to play a significant role in drug addiction because of its ability to alter levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.

    "Despite almost three decades of work by the pharmaceutical industry and other researchers, there are still few compounds known to act on NTSR1," said McDonald. "This new funding will help us thoroughly explore the interactions between the receptor and its signaling pathways and its impact on dopamine, which helps drive addiction and relapse."

    The neurotransmitter dopamine is released when addictive drugs stimulate a reward circuit in the brain. Drug-induced changes in the reward circuit then reinforce the link between the pleasurable experience and the drug, increasing the tendency towards addiction. Blocking the surge of dopamine could protect the brain from these addictive changes, while substantially reducing the risk of relapse.

    Kamenecka noted, "Our grant was something special in the sense that the NIH was looking for something very specific – new ways to accelerate the search for potential treatments of central nervous system disorders, which is what we expect to deliver. It also provides a good opportunity for Patsy's and my laboratories to collaborate on an important therapeutic area – drug addiction is an area with a lot of unmet medical needs."
    The scientists said they expect to use a multiple test or assay approach to identify compounds that act on NTSR1, a method both believe will be an improvement over the current single assay approach typically used in the pharmaceutical industry.

    "We want to avoid missing any potentially valuable compounds," McDonald noted, "so we plan to cast as wide a net as possible to capture compounds that modulate the receptor through different mechanisms."
    If the team identifies compounds of interest, the scientists plan to determine their "functional fingerprint," then work with addiction experts at Scripps Florida, such as Associate Professor Paul Kenny, to help validate the compounds as potential therapeutics for addiction. Their search may ultimately move beyond addiction, however, since NTSR1 and related receptors such as NTSR2 and NTSR3 are also involved in diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and even some cancers.

    About The Scripps Research Institute

    The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations, at the forefront of basic biomedical science that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences, autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases, and synthetic vaccine development. Established in its current configuration in 1961, it employs approximately 3,000 scientists, postdoctoral fellows, scientific and other technicians, doctoral degree graduate students, and administrative and technical support personnel. Scripps Research is headquartered in La Jolla, California. It also includes Scripps Florida, whose researchers focus on basic biomedical science, drug discovery, and technology development. Scripps Florida is located in Jupiter, Florida..

    Miko Ono 14-Jul-2010


  1. RaverHippie
    Re: NIH awards Scripps Florida scientists $2.3 Million to develop drug addiction trea

    if only their "wide net under consideration" would include ibogaine.
  2. Jasim
    Re: NIH awards Scripps Florida scientists $2.3 Million to develop drug addiction trea

    I've read that ibogaine actually is not that effective for the treatment of addiction and most of the information regarding that matter was hype. But this is off topic.
  3. dyingtomorrow
    Re: NIH awards Scripps Florida scientists $2.3 Million to develop drug addiction trea

    This sounds like nearly the same thing they already have for opiate addicts - naltrexone / vivitrol. Blocking pleasure in addicts has not been a revolutionarily effective solution by any means, and SWIM doesn't really see the point of this unless it works for all drugs, which would at least give them the same option opiate addicts have.

    So far, blocking opiate receptors in addicts has only shown value as a makeshift roadblock to throw up in an attempt to buy some time. The person has to be extremely personally dedicated (basically to the point where they would not need the naltrexone anyways), or it is futile. It's kind of like erasing all the dealers numbers out of your phone - it is a step you can put inbetween yourself and relapse, but if you decide you really want to use again, it will make no difference. The naltrexone pill is of very little value in SWIM's opinion, since someone can just not take it and get high a day or two later. The implant is also of lesser use, since addicts are known to just cut the little bead out if they decide they want to get high. The typical vivitrol injection is a million times better than the other two in the sense that it can completely prevent someone for getting high for a month or so, so if the addict had someone to force them to get the shots, it could be useful. SWIM has heard estimates and personal experience that it takes about 3 months of being opiate free before your perspective changes back to roughly normal, so chainlinked vivitrol injections are probably the closest thing to a decent tool in the fight against relapse. Eventually the person will stop taking them, however, and the old pull will still be there.

    In general, SWIM is not sure how effective it is to give a drug addict something which just blocks their ability to get high, that they either have to choose to take daily, or that wears off after so long. First of all, even with their ability to feel euphoric blocked, the memory and knowledge of how good they are capable of feeling with their drug will always remain. The huge long term relapse rate for the major hard drugs (heroin, coke, meth), and even alcohol, is largely due to the fact that the memory of that otherwise unobtainable pleasure never truly goes away. Pleasure blocking drugs could be useful tools for short term goals, but they will always be of marginal usefulness.

    As a final side note, there is something incredibly dismal, gray, sorry, beaten-dog-ish - just contrary to the "spirit of life" - to SWIM about the concept of taking artificial drugs every day for the rest of your life to block your ability to feel pleasure. Like, a crushed soul living in 1984 or something.

    (Just SWIM's perception of the matter, not criticizing anyone who does, no need to neg rep).
  4. missparkles
    Re: NIH awards Scripps Florida scientists $2.3 Million to develop drug addiction trea

    But it's never just about these drugs, is it. Cos I agree, no drug will keep an addict in recovery. This is just part of the arsenal that a person can use to stay drug free. Just putting down the drug and getting shots will not work, a person must look at why they began using in the first place, what their relapse triggers might be, and of course that old chestnut, sorting through any issues that may have precipitated their using in the first place.

    One specific treatment is rarely enough, it has to be a combo of all possible treatments, cos only this rounded approach will enable an addict to get clean and stay that way. And yes, this does take a few months before it's usually felt, but hell, what's 3 months compared to the living hell of going through that high, and then WD, perhaps 2-3 times a week. The panic you feel when you have no money for heroin, the terror felt when you have money, and no connect?

  5. dyingtomorrow
    Re: NIH awards Scripps Florida scientists $2.3 Million to develop drug addiction trea

    Well I think a huge social problem is the abstinence-only concept of drug treatment, which this reflects in a way, and which SWIM vaguely touched on in his previous post. The government will dish out unlimited funds to either lock up drug users, or for unscientific research showing how evil drugs are, or for this or that snake oil to try and stop people from getting high. I agree that probably most people with drug addiction issues could benefit from a comprehensive attempt to "cure" them. I think your average drug user probably wants help, wants to live a normal life, and things like this can only be useful.

    It seems to me though that with every new "stop people from getting high" treatment, the fact is further obscured that there is a small but very real percentage of drug addicts which literally cannot be cured, by any means, of their inherent need to get high. Methadone, suboxone, opiate blockers, NA, CBT, the rather significant amount of public based drug treatment programs that exist - these basically already cover the bases for someone who has the predetermined potential to get clean.

    It is just an undeniable fact that there are a significant number of drug addicts out there who are never going to get clean, no matter what you do to them. I won't delve into the reasons, but as SWIM has stated many times before he believes it is largely due to mental illness, or other biological factors they have identified in "incurable" addicts, such as having abnormally fewer dopamine receptors. These long term addicts have tried all the treatments and therapies, been clean for periods of time, have done everything anyone could ask of them; and just nothing in life is going to change the fact that the only thing which makes life worth living for them is getting high. So many of these people live out their lives having tried everything to get clean, yet even up to the end of their existence, the fact that they could get clean was held against them by society, rather than any kid of acceptance for who and "what" they truly are.

    I think that amidst scramble for ways to get people unaddicted to drugs, there needs to be recognition of the fact that being completely, utterly, and sincerely "treatment resistant" isn't a fault or choice of such people. And that they should have treatment options too, not be tortured their entire lives with therapies and drugs which will never work for them. Any new tool to help with drug addiction is a good thing in itself, but it also makes SWIM concerned about decreasing public/legal/medical compassion for people who will, with perfect certainty, be addicts as long as they live.
  6. missparkles
    Re: NIH awards Scripps Florida scientists $2.3 Million to develop drug addiction trea

    Agreed, total abstinence doesn't work for some people, but until you actually try it, and I mean give it your best shot, how will you ever know? I do think these rehab stays for marijuana users is wrong though, due to the nature of heavy duty use of marijuana causing specific problems, people should be treated, if it's needed, at separate facilities.

    Sometimes rehabs can be like prison, in as much as it's quite possible to learn all about drugs you'd never even consider using, if you hadn't come into close contact with users of these heavier, more addictive drugs. So these treatment centers may even be creating addicts. Rehab being their kinda "gateway" drug, if that makes sense?

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