Gene therapy promises permanent detoxification from cocaine

Detoxification from cocaine, which can last for decades, promises cure developed by scientists in the US. Treatment is by implanting genetically engineered stem cells to secrete a powerful enzyme that removes the drug from the blood

Experiments on mice, Guardian reports, showed that implants helped mice lose their cocaine desire. They still survived with large doses that killed all the mice that had not been treated. Scientists have known for decades that the BChE enzyme present in blood plasma breaks down cocaine into harmless substances.

However, it does not act quickly while it does not stay for long in the blood to have an effect. The team of researchers modified stem cells to produce a version of the enzyme that is 4,400 times more potent than physique. These cells could be implanted under the skin to secrete the enzyme in the blood.

The results give hope for long-term detoxification which will essentially “cleanse” the drug from the blood as soon as it passes into the user’s body. In practice, users will become immune to the drug. Even more so, the treatment is affordable, minimally invasive and long-lasting, says University of Chicago professor Ming Su, who runs the research. An implant in humans could produce the enzyme for 20-30 years, giving long-term “immunity” to cocaine. However, the potential effects are not yet known