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Scientist Searches for Anti-Alcohol Drug

August 14, 2007

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) – Fred Risinger never gives his eastern Idaho bar patrons a last call – but then his customers are mice. Some are teetotalers who eschew the mouse-sized shots of alcohol they can obtain at any time simply by pressing a lever in their cage. Others Risinger describes as “your wine with dinner mice.”

And some are raging alcoholics, downing, in human terms, several fifths of liquor each day.

Risinger, an Idaho State University professor, said what makes the alcohol cravings in the individual mice different is the same thing that makes the alcohol cravings in humans different: genetics.

His goal is to find the right combination of drugs to short-circuit those genetic cravings that would lead the heavy drinkers, first with mice and then humans, to be able to turn away from alcohol.

“The majority of drugs I work with are so new they don’t even have a name,” Risinger, Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences chairman, told the Idaho State Journal. “I’m looking for an agent that eliminates craving while allowing people to maintain their daily functions.”

He’s been a mice bartender for more than a decade trying to find the right drug cocktail. He first became interested in the project about 20 years ago when Canadian scientists discovered that some alcoholics taking Prozac and other drugs ended up drinking less.

Risinger speculated that some patients benefited and some didn’t because Prozac affects certain receptors in the brain.

“These areas control motivation,” Risinger said. “They are areas we have in common with mice, rats and dogs. Every animal has the same motivational needs that humans do. Even though we know something is bad for us we have these primitive parts of the brain that tell us to do it anyway, and its very difficult to resist.”

His research with mice is to find a drug that targets those parts of the brain, making it easier to resist those cravings.

“There’s pretty much a consensus that no matter what you are addicted to, that same primitive area of the brain is responsible,” Risinger said. “Exactly how that brain area works is not a matter of consensus.”

Sherlyn Johnson, who fought alcoholism for years, said if Risinger succeeds it would help alcoholics avoid the problems that made her recovery difficult.

“If (a drug) was to come about, it would help people a lot because the craving is a lot of it,” said Johnson, 56. “(It would help) as long as they put a warning label on it that this will take away the craving, but you still need support and counseling.”

Risinger said finding the drug is a difficult problem to solve.

“I’ve got a stack of boxes this high,” he said, reaching above his head. “They are full of research that didn’t go anywhere. But that’s the nature of this business.”

Information from: Idaho State Journal, http://www.journalnet.com




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