October 10, 2006
Italians find anti-alcoholism gene
Discovery of Eps8′s role may open doors to new medicines (ANSA) – Rome, October 9 – The chance discovery by Italian scientists of a gene’s anti-alcoholism properties may open doors to new therapies for people with drink problems .
The discovery regarding the Eps8 gene by experts at Milan’s Institute of Molecular Oncology (IFOM) occurred while they were looking at the gene’s suspected role in the development of cancer .
"During a series of tests on mice, we saw that animals lacking Eps8 are resistant to some acute intoxicating effects of alcohol," said Nina Offenhauser of IFOM.
This is significant because Eps8 is present in the human brain and past studies have shown that reduced response to the intoxicating effects of alcohol corresponds to an increased risk of alcoholism .
Indeed, the mice lacking Eps8 consumed more alcohol in tests than animals with the gene .
"For the first time we can link some of alcoholism’s genetic factors to a physiological cell process," said Pier Paolo Di Fiore, the scientific director of IFOM .
"A lack of Eps8 in mice can produce a phenomenon that is indistinguishable from alcoholism in humans". IFOM conducted research its with a number of Italian and international institutions, including Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute and the University of California at San Francisco .
The results have been published in the latest edition of prestigious US biology journal Cell .
Alcoholism affects approximately 300 million people worldwide. It is genetically determined in part, although a number of factors determine whether an individual will develop the addiction. These include a person’s social environment and emotional health. The Italian discovery may lead to the development of new tools to combat a disorder which has proved very hard to treat by chemical means up to now .
There are very few alcoholism drugs on the market and most tend to reduce rather than eliminate cravings .
Many alcoholics turn to the well-known support network provided by Alcoholics Anonymous, but even AA cannot prevent relapses .
Offenhäuser said the breakthrough may also further our understanding of breast cancer, which studies have shown is frequently linked to alcohol consumption .