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Cancer Drugs May Help Treat Alcoholism

Posted in Alcoholism Treatment

New studies on flies and mice have shown that a class of cancer drugs could help beat alcohol addiction. The research showed that when treated with the drugs, animals with a mutant version of a gene called “happy hour” grow increasingly resistant to the effects of alcohol. The gene normally works by blocking the Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) pathway, which plays a role in cancer. Drugs that are designed to inhibit the EGF receptor have been approved by the FDA for the treatment on non-small-cell lung cancer.

When flies and mice were treated with these drugs, they became more sensitive to alcohol. Rats given the drug spontaneously consumed less alcohol when it was freely available to them, but they continued to drink sugar water, another rewarding beverage. "This is a very powerful example of how simple model organisms—and the little fruit fly in particular—can be used to move quickly from an unknown gene to a potential therapy for drug addiction," said Ulrike Heberlein of the University of California, San Francisco.

Earlier studies have shown that fruit flies are a useful tool for discovering the basis for the effects of alcohol. Several genes that were previously identified as playing a role in the flies’ alcohol response play similar roles in mammals. In this new study, researchers screened mutant flies for those less sensitive to the cancer-fighting drugs. This led them to the happyhour gene, which has an important and previously unknown role in controlling the insects’ response to alcohol.

Heberlein’s team explained that because genetics seem to play a large role in alcoholism, genes and pathways involved in the acute response to alcohol can yield insight into the genetic factors that contribute to the more complex process of addition. Although they still don’t know exactly how alcohol influences the EGF pathway or how that leads to alcoholic intoxication, Heberlein said, “…the fact that we’ve come, in an unbiased way, to molecules in the same pathway is telling us that this is really, really important.”

Source: Science Daily, ‘Happy Hour’ Gene Discovery Suggests Cancer Drugs Might Treat Alcoholism, May 25, 2009