A New Approach To Treating Cocaine Addiction: Skin Grafts

Researchers are using genetically engineered skin cells to inactivate cocaine and block cravings in mice.

Cocaine use is on the rise yet again. (SSPL/ Getty)

Addiction is a chronic disease that causes a compulsive drug-seeking behavior that individuals find difficult or impossible to control, even when they are aware of the harmful and possibly deadly consequences, writes Qingyao Kong, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Anesthesia & Critical Care at the University of Chicago.

Kong and her colleagues are studying a new approach that blocks cocaine-seeking in mice and seems to protect them from high doses that would otherwise be deadly. The team engineered skin stem cells that carried the gene for the butyrylcholinesterase (hBChE) enzyme, which breaks down, or metabolizes, cocaine into inactive, harmless components. They used genetically engineered skin grafts that released hBChE into the blood stream of the host mouse. The animals that received these skin cells were able to clear injected quantities of cocaine faster than control animals, and their brains showed lower levels of dopamine.

Plus, the skin grafts of hBChE-producing cells effectively decreased the rate of lethal overdoses from 50 percent to zero when the animals were injected with a high and potentially lethal dose of cocaine, writes Kong. The skin graft also seems to efficiently block the cocaine-induced reward effect.

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