A study into the effects of the protein molecule G-CSF has found that it could be used to decrease the level of addiction found in regular cocaine users. The module is known to affect the brains reward centres, and when used in addicts, could be used in the future by medical professionals to help combat their dependency on the drug.
It was also found that by neutralising the molecule, which is found in the blood and brain at higher levels in addicts, there could be a drastic improvement in results when used alongside behaviour therapy and other tools. When tested on mice, it was found that by injecting G-CSF directly into the “nucleus acumbens” region of the brain, there was a substantial reduction in addictive behaviours in the animals.
According to lead researcher Dr Drew Kiraly, assistant professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai “The results of this study are exciting because outside of 12-step programmes and psychotherapy, no medication-assisted therapy exists to treat cocaine addiction.”
Dr Kiraly added that the findings of the study are a vital development in medicine. They show that these treatments, which are already used safely in humans for treating other conditions, could effectively cut off any urge to return to using the drug. However, the study showed that the changes to levels of G-CSF in the mice seemed to have very little impact on their interest in other treats which stimulate reward centres in the brain like sugar or other foods.
Researchers added that these types of treatments are hamstrung “for a number of reasons, including problems with side effects, routes of delivery, or abuse potential of agents tested.” They added that there is a potential risk that, as with any treatment for drug addicts, that the cocaine user could go on to replace their addiction by abusing another addictive substance.
“Treatment with a G-CSF modulator would have the distinct advantage that it may be harnessed to reduce drug taking while ostensibly having no abuse potential on its own—a known confound in many previous trials for psychostimulant use disorders,” said that researchers.
Dr Kiraly added that although this study provides valuable insights into the future of treatment for drug addiction, further tests would need to be carried out to ensure its safety and effectiveness in humans. “Drugs that manipulate G-CSF already exist as Food and Drug Administration-approved medications. Once we clarify how it can best be targeted to reduce addiction-like behaviours, there is a high possibility that treatments targeting G-CSF could be translated into clinical trials and treatments for patients,” he said.