Cocaine addiction is one of the most dangerous diseases facing millions of Americans. Cocaine is a highly addictive narcotic that carries with it serious risk of overdose. As with many other dangerous drugs, scientists are constantly working to find new and innovative ways to combat the dangerous effects of cocaine.
Recently, scientists may have discovered an unconventional way of preventing both addiction and possible overdoses of the drug.
A Naturally Occurring Enzyme
Cocaine is a drug that is derived from a naturally occurring plant called the coca plant. Where coca plants grow, there is another naturally occurring substance: a bacteria that is fueled by an enzyme that actually eats away at cocaine.
Though scientists have known about this enzyme for some time, it had not been considered a viable means of combatting cocaine use because of the fact that once the enzyme hit human body temperature, it became ineffective. Recently, however researchers have designed a version of the enzyme that can in fact withstand normal human body temperatures, and this version may be even more effective at eating away at cocaine.
The new enzyme, which is called cocaine esterase, can now last for up to 100 days in a human body. This is a dramatic increase from the 12 minute half life that the naturally occurring version of the drug has.
How Was the New Enzyme Designed?
Scientists were able to design the new enzyme by creating a model of the naturally occurring one in a computer program. Using the computer, they were able to simulate exposure to temperatures similar to normal human body temperatures.
As they did this, they were able to see which part of the enzyme was most sensitive to damage caused by heat. Scientists were then able to adjust the enzyme with mutations that strengthened the weaker parts of it.
Uses Of The Enzyme
Is it really possible that this new enzyme has the power to minimize the damage done by cocaine? Many researchers think it is certainly a possibility. In the mice that the enzyme was tested on, those who received the specially designed enzyme were able to survive lethal doses of cocaine for 3 days and longer.
This means that although the enzyme is a ways a way from being tested for human consumption, it does show promise in terms of its potential ability to protect from both cocaine addiction and overdose. If an at-risk addict is administered the drug, they may be far less likely to die from a cocaine overdose while they have the enzyme in their system.
Because the enzyme literally eats away at cocaine, the drug could also serve as a deterrent for those who are addicted because it could possibly remove the positive or pleasurable effects of cocaine, and thus greatly lessen impulses to use.
Similar Methods Being Used To Treat Other Kinds Of Drug Addiction
Although the discovery and development of this enzyme is certainly viewed by many as revolutionary, other types of addiction are also being treated with drugs that block the effectiveness of a dangerous drug.
Naloxone can be used to reverse a heroine addiction once it has already started and can also be used as a way of removing the “reward” from the use of heroin and other opiates.
Because so much of addiction has to do with brain chemistry and the way the body reacts to certain drugs, this type of technology may prove to be a very influential tool in curbing the tide of drug addiction and overdose that is affecting to many addicts and their families.