An intriguing new study has found that a single dose of human mesenchymal stem cells administered to rats bred to be high alcohol drinkers significantly reduced their voluntary alcohol intake. The research bolsters the growing hypothesis that stem cell treatments may be effective therapies to battle a variety of addiction disorders.

Recent research has indicated that chronic use of addictive drugs, including alcohol, cocaine and opiates, is associated with an increase in neuroinflammation. Other studies, in both humans and rats, have also suggested that pro-inflammatory conditions in the brain can increase voluntary alcohol consumption.

 by a team of researchers from the University of Chile found that intracerebral injections of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into high-alcohol intake bred rats resulted in the animals dramatically reducing chronic alcohol consumption. The hurdle researchers faced following that study was the fact the intracerebral administration of any substance is not an ideal way to treat chronic alcoholism in humans. And because MSCs are relatively large molecules they tend not to effectively reach the brain when injected intravenously.

For this new study the team utilized a technique that can aggregate MSCs into smaller spheroid shapes, reducing their overall cell size by up to 75 percent, allowing them to better reach the brain when injected intravenously. To study the efficacy of the MSC-spheroids on the symptoms of alcoholism they were then intravenously administered into rats that had been selectively bred to consume high volumes of alcohol.

“When a single dose of small-sized cells was injected intravenously, it reduced brain inflammation and the oxidative stress in the animals that had consumed alcohol chronically,” explains Yedy Israel, one of the authors of the new study. “Brain inflammation and oxidative stress are known to self-perpetuate each other, creating conditions which promote a long-lasting relapse risk.”

Within 48 hours of a single intravenous MSC treatment the rats had reduced their alcohol intake by 90 percent. Alcohol-induced neuroinflammation was also significantly reduced and the effects were seen to last for 3 to 5 weeks following the single infusion.

The research is a fascinatingly valuable new addition to the growing body of work targeting neuroinflammation as a way to battle chronic consumption of addictive drugs. The next stage for Israel and the team is to move into human clinical studies and verify these results, with a view to develop new stem cell-based therapies to treat alcoholism.

The research was published in the journal .

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