Monday, January 21, 2008

The Big Picture on Genetic Influence

new genetic drug addiction study was published last week in PLoS Computational Biology. According to the report, researchers from the Center for Bioinformatics at Peking University in Beijing have put together the gene atlas that underlies drug addiction and identified five molecular pathways that are commonly found in people who are addicted to four different drugs.

Though environmental influences play a big part in drug addiction, the study of genetic influences are extremely important. It’s an area of science that is really growing right now. The biological process and development of genes that affect whether or not a person becomes addicted to a drug can help determine better ways to treat drug addiction in those who develop it and prevent it in those who may be predisposed to the disease.

There are no comprehensive studies just yet that provide a complete picture of what the genetic influences of drug addiction looks like. Each study is slightly biased and flawed but each brings to the table a portion of the big picture so that when they are viewed together, the truth about the genetics that underlies drug addiction becomes more clear.

While we’re waiting for the researchers to figure out the drug addiction genes and create a corresponding vaccine (wouldn’t that be great?!) or treatment specific to each type of drug, we have a detox for opioid-based drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin and morphine, to name just a few. Suboxone is a treatment that was developed based on what we know about how opiates work in the brain, binding to opiate receptors and triggering the pleasure pathway. With a binding effect that is half as strong as prescription painkillers, Suboxone can significantly decrease withdrawal symptoms that usually occur when you stop taking an opiate medication and allow you to detox off of your prescription drug slowly and safely.

Check out the gene atlas that the researchers from the Center for Bioinformatics at Peking University in Beijing have posted for free at KARG, the first online molecular database for addiction, or check out the study and others like it the Public Library of Science.

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