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Scientific breakthrough could eliminate addiction

Sunday 27 Apr 2014 4:17 p.m.

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In an international breakthrough, University of Canterbury scientists have made a major discovery that could stop addicts craving for drugs.

They have done laboratory tests on a method that has found to have successfully stopped rats' addiction to cocaine.

In the laboratory rats can self-administer cocaine specially imported from the United States, but the researchers have found a way to stop them from wanting it.

"What we can demonstrate is that we can eliminate the need for the animal to self-administer cocaine," says Dr Juan Canales. "If we treat them with this compound they are no longer interested in cocaine."

How it works is by giving the rats a compound that goes to a particular receptor cell in the brain. Once activated, the receptor stops the release of the dopamine, which helps create feelings of pleasure.

Drugs work by creating a release of dopamine. Researchers have found with that blocked, the pleasure is not there.

The scientists have concentrated on cocaine, a drug never far from the news, with the likes of celebrity cook Nigella Lawson admitting she had used it and former British X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos facing charges of helping to supply it.

But concerns in New Zealand are more focussed on methamphetamine, synthetic cannabis, alcohol and ever overeating.

"We are planning to expand to other drugs of abuse, including methamphetamine, which is a big problem as you know in New Zealand, and we also want to have a look at these potential medications in alcohol abuse and obesity," says Dr Canales.

What's more is researchers have found the rats do not relapse. Giving them the compound cures them.

"We are trying to save lives here, and we are trying to make the lives of addicts easier and prevent relapse, which is the major problem in addiction," says Dr Canales.

"I'm very excited about the project and the findings in our lab," says PhD student Yue Pei. "At the moment there's not a particularly effective way to treat cocaine."

Other researchers are testing the compounds on humans, and while there will not be an addiction cure available tomorrow, this study's success indicates that researchers are on the right path to find a cure for cravings.

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