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Cocaine Addiction May Be Treatable: A Study

Apr 04, 2013 02:36 PM EDT

Scientists have discovered a way to switch cocaine addiction off and on in rats' brains using a laser.

To do so, researchers first took light-sensitive proteins called rhodopsins and inserted them through into the neurons located in the rats' prefrontal cortex. They were then able to turn the nerve cells in this region of the brain on and off using a laser. As they did, they were able to alternatively remove or induce the addiction - including in rats who had never been addicted before.

According to one of the study's researcher's, Antonello Bonci from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the discovery can immediately be implemented in treating humans with cocaine addictions though the methodology would differ.

It would be done using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a process that has been used as a treatment for symptoms of depression.

The theory, however, is the same - when a certain level of activity is administered to the prefrontal cortex, the desire for cocaine evaporates.

"That's the most exciting part for me," Bonci told The Verge. "Generally there is a 15-year lag between the day you discover something and when you can try it on humans."

How long and how often a patient would have to undergo treatments for the desired effect is not clear; however, Bonci and his colleagues plan to begin clinical trials at the National Institute of Health almost immediately, according to a press release on the study.

The release further explains that an estimated 1.4 million individuals living in the United States are addicted to cocaine, a reality with significant healthcare costs seen in the nearly 500,000 visits to the emergency room in 2008 that resulted from individuals abusing the substance in. Cocaine abuse, the release continues, is currently the leader of heart attacks and strokes for people under 35.

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