Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Stanford scientists identify drug to treat opioid addiction

Scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered that a commonly available non-addictive drug can prevent symptoms of withdrawal from opioids with little likelihood of serious side effects. The drug, ondansetron, which is already approved to treat nausea and vomiting, appears to avoid some of the problems that accompany existing treatments for addiction to these powerful painkillers, the scientists said.

Opioids encompass a diverse array of prescription and illegal drugs, including codeine, morphine and heroin. In 2007, about 12.5 million Americans aged 12 and older used prescription pain medications for non-medical purposes, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, administered by the federal government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"Opioid abuse is rising at a faster rate than any other type of illicit drug use, yet only about a quarter of those dependent on opioids seek treatment," said Larry F. Chu, MD, assistant professor of anesthesia at the School of Medicine and lead author of the study that will be published online Feb. 17 in the Journal of Pharmacogenetics and Genomics. "One barrier to treatment is that when you abruptly stop taking the drugs, there is a constellation of symptoms associated with withdrawal." Chu described opioid withdrawal as a "bad flu," characterized by agitation, insomnia, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Current methods of treatment are not completely effective, according to Chu. One drug used for withdrawal, clonidine, requires close medical supervision as it can cause severe side effects, while two others, methadone and buprenorphine, don't provide a satisfactory solution because they act through the same mechanism as the abused drugs. "It's like replacing one drug with another," said co-investigator Gary Peltz, MD, PhD, professor of anesthesia.

"What we need is a magic bullet," said Chu. "Something that treats the symptoms of withdrawal, does not lead to addiction and can be taken at home."

The researchers' investigation led them to the drug ondansetron, after they determined that it would block certain receptors involved in withdrawal symptoms.

The scientists were able to make this connection thanks to their having a good animal model for opioid dependence. Mice given morphine for several days develop the mouse equivalent of addiction. Researchers then stop providing morphine to trigger withdrawal symptoms. Strikingly, these mice, when placed into a plastic cylinder, will start to jump into the air. One can measure how dependent these mice are by counting how many times they jump. Like humans, dependent mice also become very sensitive to pain when they stop receiving morphine.

But the responses vary among the laboratory animals. There are "different flavors of mice," explained Peltz. "Some strains of mice are more likely to become dependent on opioids." By comparing the withdrawal symptoms and genomes of these different strains, it's possible to figure out which genes play a major role in addiction.

To accomplish this feat, Peltz and his colleagues used a powerful computational "haplotype-based" genetic mapping method that he had recently developed, which can sample a large portion of the genome within just a few hours. This method pinpoints genes responsible for the variation in withdrawal symptoms across these strains of mice.

The analysis revealed an unambiguous result: One particular gene determined the severity of withdrawal. That gene codes for the 5-HT3 receptor, a protein that responds to the brain-signaling chemical serotonin.

To confirm these results, the researchers injected the dependent mice with ondansetron, a drug that specifically blocks 5-HT3 receptors. The drug significantly reduced the jumping behavior of mice as well as pain sensitivity — two signs of addiction.

The scientists were able to jump from "from mouse to man" by sheer luck: It turns out that ondansetron is already on the market for the treatment of pain and nausea. As a result, they were able to immediately use this drug, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, in eight healthy, non-opioid-dependent humans. In one session, they received only a single large dose of morphine, and in another session that was separated by at least week, they took ondansetron in combination with morphine. They were then given questionnaires to assess their withdrawal symptoms.

Similar to mice, humans treated with ondansetron before or while receiving morphine showed a significant reduction in withdrawal signs compared with when they received morphine but not ondansetron. "A major accomplishment of this study was to take lab findings and translate them to humans," said principal investigator J. David Clark, MD, PhD, professor of anesthesia at Stanford University School of Medicine and the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

Chu plans on conducting a clinical study to confirm the effectiveness of another ondansetron-like drug in treating opioid withdrawal symptoms in a larger group of healthy humans. And the research team will continue to test the effectiveness of ondansetron in treating opioid addiction.

The scientists warned that ondansetron will not by itself resolve the problems that arise with continued use of these painkillers. Addiction is a long-term, complex process, involving both physical and psychological factors that lead to compulsive drug use. "This is not a cure for addiction," said Clark. "It's naïve to think that any one receptor is a panacea for treatment. Treating the withdrawal component is only one way of alleviating the suffering. With luck and determination, we can identify additional targets and put together a comprehensive treatment program."

Collaborators on this study included De-Yong Liang, PhD, the study's co-lead author, previously a research associate in the Department of Anesthesia and currently a research associate at the Palo Alto Institute for Research and Education; Xiangqi Li, MD, a life science research assistant in the department; Nicole D'Arcy, a medical student: Peyman Sahbaie, MD, a research associate at the institute; and Guochun Liao, PhD, of the pharmaceutical company Hoffman-La Roche. This work was supported by grants to Clark from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and grants to Chu from the NIH and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

The researchers are working with the Stanford University Office of Technology Licensing to seek a patent for the use of ondansetron and related medicines in the treatment of drug addiction.

Rosanne Spector | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>