Zebrafish Used In Studies For Developing Opioid Treatment Medication

While researchers rack their brains to come up with a better treatment method for opioid addiction, a possible solution arises.

Experts at the University of Utah have discovered the ability for zebra fish to become addicted to opioids. They hope that they can use this testing method to develop a treatment for humans. Behavioral Brain Research is a journal where the findings of this study have been published.

Currently, the issue with most treatment methods is that they just involve more opiates. They use a lower dose opiate to ease the patient off of the hard drugs they have been taking. When a person is in recovery and detox, it would be most ideal to medicate them without opiates; they just need to find a way to do it.

Randall Peterson is the dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Utah; he is currently involved with the study.

“There is still a compelling need for therapies that work in different ways, not just by replacing one opioid with another” he said.

When the researchers noticed the ability for the zebrafish to become addicted to opiates, they saw an opportunity to use this toward finding a solution for humans struggling with recovery.

An early study was conducted in a simple manner:

"First, they set up a fish tank containing two platforms on opposite sides, one white and one yellow. The yellow platform contained a sensor. When the fish swam over the sensor, it released food while a green light flashed. Nothing happened when they swam over the white platform."

The fish began to realize how the sensor worked.

Once the researchers knew that the fish understood the purpose of the food-releasing sensor they switched the food with hydrocodone, otherwise known as Vicodin. The fish began to absorb the drug.

To control the study, the researchers refilled the tank with fresh water to keep the fish coming back for more. They began to see that the fish needed more of the drug; they became noticeably addicted.

Over the course of a 5 day study, the fish were placed in the testing tank for 50 minutes each day. During those 50 minutes, some of the fish went back to the opiate water more than 2,000 times.

The researchers filled the tank with fresh water to observe the behavior of the fish once the opiates were removed. The fish swam in and out of the testing area more than 200 times and when they realized the drug was no longer available, they showed signed of anxiety and irritation; clear proof of their addiction to the opioids.

“What’s new here is that this is a self-administration model where the fish have to perform an action to receive a drug, so that’s fundamentally different in terms of the way the brain responds to the drug,” Peterson. “[This enables] us to measure motivation in drug-seeking in a more complete way.”

This study is ground breaking for a couple reasons. For one, zebrafish 70 percent of the same genes with humans, according to Futurism. Also they share similar neurological makeup with us,

"an μ-opioid receptor and two neurotransmitters - to humans, meaning they react to addiction in the same way."

“Drugs of abuse target the pathways of the pleasure centers very effectively,” Gabriel Bossé, an author on the study. “These pathways are conserved in zebrafish, and the fish can experience some of the same signs of addiction and withdrawal as people.”

In our nation 33,000 people died of opioid overdose in 2015.

Currently, about 2.6 million people are addicted to some form of opiate whether it's heroin or some form of legal painkiller; they're all deadly when abused.

These shocking numbers have lead our new president to announce this epidemic as an "emergency" that must be dealt with.

“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency,” said Trump. “It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”

This research is leading to some ground breaking observations. After watching thousands of fish, experts have noticed genetic mutations begin to occur due to the addiction. They also saw that female zebrafish are able to produce up to 200 eggs every day.

While this can help the researchers figure out a suitable treatment method for humans to use, it could be years before an actual product is on the market.

However, they will not stop with their efforts to create a revolutionary medication.

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