Scientists say they have developed a novel drug that may treat alcoholism by reducing alcohol intake, and also reduce depression without inducing seizures.
According to studies, alcoholism has risen sharply in the 2000s, to the point that one such study suggests that one in eight people meet the criteria as an alcoholic, said researchers at Purdue University in the US.
Depression affects many of the 140 million people worldwide struggling with alcohol use disorders, they said.
Only a few drugs are approved for treating the disorder. The goal of those medications is to reduce alcohol cravings, but they do not treat psychiatric disorders.
The study focused on a G protein-coupled receptor, called the delta opioid receptor, which is a novel drug target that is different from the receptor in the body that binds prescription opioids.
The team developed drugs that bind to this new target and selectively activate a particular protein-signalling cascade of this receptor.
"We can then use this unique property of the drug to provide a therapeutic effect and avoid a side effect," said Richard van Rijn, an assistant professor at Purdue University.
"Current types of delta opioids have been failing in clinical trials because, unlike ours, they activate multiple cascades, including those associated with increased side effects like seizures," van Rijn said.
The new drug has proven effective in preclinical tests in reducing alcohol use and has pharmacological properties that should enable it to reduce depression without inducing seizures, the researchers said.
"Our lab's research is focused on providing new hope for patients dealing with neurological disorders and addictions," van Rijn said.
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