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Stem Cells Shown to Curb Alcoholism in Rats, Humans to be Next?

  • 28 March 2018
  • Sam Mire

Stem cells offer a world of promise when it comes to eliminating the unavoidable maladies that befall humans, often from birth. Typically, we think of pre-detecting birth defects and avoiding hereditarily-passed health issues in terms of the most obvious benefits that stem cells can provide. They have even served as a wealth of hope that, one day, the paralyzed and blind may have their sensation and sense of sight restored in droves .  

A study conducted at the University of Chile has revealed yet another potential for stem cell infusion in humans: curbing or eliminating instances of alcoholism. Addiction is a disease that, while often misunderstood, removes great levels of control from humans’ hands. Though it does not warrant the level of sympathy that blindness or hereditary defects do, stem cells are increasingly proving that cures for disease in their many forms – from Alzheimer’s to alcoholism – are not mutually exclusive.

The study was conducted by giving lab rats the equivalent of over a bottle of vodka per day, by human standards. Bred to consume alcohol instead of water, the rats would engage in this harmful behavior for up to 17 weeks, then were deprived of the alcohol for a period of two weeks. Instead of offering the rats the alcohol which they were craving, they were instead given mesenchymal stem cells, injecting them to reduce a swelling of the neurons that has been associated with addiction of all sorts. The results were nothing short of astonishing and for many, great reason for hope considering addiction is often generational and life-altering.

When a single dose of small-sized cells was injected intravenously, it reduced brain inflammation and the oxidative stress in the animals that had consumed alcohol chronically, said Yedy Israel, one of the authors of the new study. Brain inflammation and oxidative stress are known to self-perpetuate each other, creating conditions which promote a long-lasting relapse risk.

The reduced inflammation had a direct impact on the rats’ desire for alcohol. After a period of 48 hours, the rats reduced their alcohol intake by as much as 90%. These results lasted for as long as three to five weeks after the single injection. Human clinical trials are next for Israel’s team, and while the results are far from being written in stone, they offer promise for numerous forms of addiction, and one that is particularly damaging to human health.

Alcohol use disorders constitute a leading cause of morbidity and premature mortality worldwide, said Dr. Fernando Ezquer, one of the researchers on the project. We believe that in humans presenting an alcohol use disorder, this type of cell therapy may reasonably be used in conjunction with a cognitive-behavioral intervention.

About Sam Mire

Data journalist and market research analyst focused on emerging technology, trends, and ideas.