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Addiction, relapse, and acute overdose are the three core features of cocaine abuse, and researchers have figured out a way to make lab mice completely immune to them. How is this possible? Xiaoyang Wu and Ming Xu are researchers at the University of Chicago who have joined forces to tackle the problem of cocaine addiction, for which there is currently no FDA-approved treatment.

The key to their method involves the naturally-occurring cocaine-degrading enzyme known as butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), CRISPR gene editing, and skin grafting. The procedure involves removing a patch of skin from a donor mouse, genetically modifying the skin cells within that patch of skin to produce high amounts of BChE, and then grafting those genetically-modified skin cells back onto the same mouse. Once the enzyme hits the bloodstream, it reaches every location in the body that requires a blood supply, and therefore reaches the central reward center where cocaine addiction develops. By degrading cocaine faster than it can accumulate in the mouse’s system, the high levels of this enzyme protect the mouse from cocaine overdose, addiction, and relapse. Wu and Xu offer fascinating and informative insight on what could potentially be the first-ever FDA-approved treatment for cocaine addiction.

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