Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug around the world. The addiction to the intake of alcoholic liquor referred to as alcoholism is a mental illness and compulsive behaviour resulting from alcohol dependency. Victims of alcoholism will often place drinking above all other obligations, including work and family. It is a condition that not only affects the individual concerned but also the family and community.
Alcohol addiction recovery isn’t a simple procedure. The options for treating the addiction vary hugely, from advocating abstinence to the prescription of drugs that are intended to make a person sick if they drink, but these medications often come with painful side effects. Northeastern University’s Pharmacy students led by Angela Sung are developing new drugs without those side effects to help those who are dependent on alcohol. Their most promising drug candidate, named GAT358, has been shown to reduce alcohol craving by 25 percent when tested in rats.
“Alcohol addiction can cause depression, anxiety, hypertension, and increased risk of cancer,” says Sung, BHS’18, PharmD’19. “The fallout is hard not just for the person drinking but also for family and friends.” Sung and her colleagues have been modifying existing compounds to dampen the sensation of pleasure in the brain’s reward system that reinforces the drinking of alcohol. Drugs that block the receptor in the brain that produces the high during consumption of drugs or alcohol have been shown to curb the craving for it. However, just as with conventional drugs like disulfiram, often the blocking is imprecise and negative side effects result.
GAT358 avoids many of those side effects. “Think of the receptor as a knob,” says Sung. “GAT358 doesn’t turn the knob off but rather tweaks it.” Discovering GAT358 has opened doors for Sung. “Originally I thought I would want to work in a hospital after graduation,” says Sung. “I didn’t know about this field. Now I am eager to pursue the exciting area of drug discovery and development,” adds Sung, hopeful to find a solution the alcohol addiction.