World's First Alcoholism Vaccine Set To Begin Preclinical Trials In Chile (VIDEO)

A Vaccine For Alcoholism?

While past research has proffered potential treatments for alcoholism, scientists have yet to develop a working vaccine to treat the maladaptive pattern of drinking.

However, that may all change if researchers at the University of Chile are successful. In February, a team of scientists is set to begin preclinical trials for the world's first alcoholism vaccine, the Santiago Times reports.

The vaccine delivers somewhat of an instant hangover if the patient takes one sip of alcohol. Researchers will first test the vaccine on mice; human trials are set for November.

"If it works, it's going to have a worldwide impact, but with many vaccines one has to test them carefully." Dr. Juan Asenjo, director of the university's Institute for Cell Dynamics and Biotechnology, told the Santiago Times. "I think the chances that this one will work are quite high."

In the body, alcohol is metabolized by first being broken down into the toxic acetaldehyde, which is then turned into acetate. However, when the second stage takes longer -- as is the case for some people -- acetaldehyde builds up in the body, resulting in symptoms typical of a hangover, such as rapid pulse, sweating and nausea.

When injected, the vaccine would work by sending a message to the liver to keep it from expressing these genes the metabolize alcohol, thus producing symptoms characteristic of a "medically induced hangover of epic proportions," FoodBeast writes.

Delivered in a single injection, the vaccine is expected to remain active in a patient's system for at least six months, and it cannot be reversed, according to the Santiago Times.

"With the vaccine, the desire to consume alcohol will be greatly reduced thanks to these reactions," Asenjo told Radio Cooperativa, according to the Agence France-Presse.

Asenjo and his team first revealed their intentions to develop an alcoholism vaccine in January 2011, the APF notes. At the time, the genetic therapy, which targets the enzymes that metabolize alcohol, was found to cut dependent rats' consumption of alcohol in half.

However, according to the report, Asenjo had higher aspirations for the vaccine's effect on humans, hoping the serum would reduce alcohol consumption by at least 90 percent.

While Asenjo's vaccine would be the first of its kind in the world, past research on alcoholism has suggested other forms of medicinal treatment, such as administering hallucinogens. In a March 2012 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers found "evidence for a clear and consistent beneficial effect of LSD for treating alcohol dependency."

Alcoholism carries a number of significant risk factors such as the potential for damage to the liver or other vital organs, the National Institutes of Health notes.

According to the World Health Organization's 2011 global status report, alcohol is the world’s third largest risk factor for disease and disability, and the harmful use of the substance leads to 2.5 million deaths annually.

In the U.S., the number of alcohol-induced deaths totaled 26,256 for 2011, slightly higher than 2010's count, according to a preliminary report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Congressional findings indicate that an estimated 10 million Americans are problem drinkers.

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