A word about animal research and animal rights

Animal research is a controversial topic in some circles.

ucla-van-on-fireAs some of you may know already, a UCLA group has recently banded together to counter-protest the fear-mongering tactics used by animal rights activists. Before UCLA Pro-Test became a reality, researchers on campus would hide away when on campus demonstration came our way. No more.

Dr. David Jentsch, who was one of my UCLA advisors, had his car burned and his work, and life, threatened by one of the more extreme, terrorist, animal-rights groups. I’m all for debate, but blowing up cars makes you lose your place at the table as far as I’m concerned.

So what are the animal-rights arguments?

Animal rights groups claim that animal research is simply sadistic and that it does not benefit us at all.

The notion that animal researchers enjoy hurting animals is so wrong as to be insulting. I’ve conducted animal research myself and know dozens of others who have. Not one of us enjoys hurting animals and we do our best to conduct everything in ways that minimize any discomfort to the animals. Additionally, government regulations regarding animal welfare in research are very strict and highly regulated. Research involving animals is always done while considering its necessity and weighing alternative options (like using cells, tissue, computer models, etc.).

The thought that animal research doesn’t benefit us is naive at best, but more likely purposefully misleading. Here’s a small, partial, list of advances that were made possible through animal research:

  1. Penicillin (mice)
  2. Insulin (dogs, mice, rabbits)
  3. Anesthetics (rats, rabbits, dogs)
  4. Polio Vaccine (mice, monkeys)
  5. Heart transplants (dogs)
  6. Meningitis Vaccine (mice)
  7. Cervical Cancer Vaccine (rabbits, cancer)
  8. Gene therapy for Muscular Dystrophy and Cystic Fibrosis (mice).
  9. Techniques such as bypass surgery, joint replacement, carcinogen screening & blood transfusions have all been developed & improved using animals

Now if anyone wants to claim that none of the above have significantly improved, or indeed saved, human lives, I’m ready for the debate.

Alcoholism , Sniffing Bath Salts, and Prescription Medication Abuse

If you care about addiction you’re going to want to read our weekly update from across the globe. It’ll make you smarter – promise (at least when it comes to alcohol and drug abuse issues)!

Drug Abuse – Vaccines to treat addictions, and Sniffing Bath Salts

Medical News Today-A biochemical breakthrough by researchers at Cornell  produces a unique vaccine that combines bits of the common cold virus with a particle that mimics cocaine. Researchers believe the vaccine could be tailored to treat other addictions, such as to nicotine, heroin, and methamphetamine. While similar to other vaccine discussions we’ve had here, the method and generalizability here are of specific interest.

BBC News-Publicity of scholastic journals back fired on Dr. David E. Nichols as drug makers profit off his research findings. Dr. Nichols says while some drugs can be manufactured in the kitchen the scale to which these “legal high” drugs are produced indicates some small companies are involved.

Fox News.com– A new “drug abuse” trend of sniffing bath salts to try to get high is emerging in Louisiana and is creating a issue for the Louisiana Poison Center. It appears that more kids are attempting this “trend” resulting in of paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, as well as hypertension and chest pain. The problem’s gotten so bad in the state that the Governor had to make the active ingredient in the bath salts illegal. The bath salts contain a chemical called “Mephadrone and Methylenedioxypyrovalerone or MDPV, which is known to be a stimulant that may also cause paranoia and hostility.

Alcoholism – Studies and Personal Stories about alcohol

Science Daily- A new study has been conducted which shows that midlife alcohol consumption may be related to dementia which is often assessed about 20 years later. The study found that both abstainers and heavy drinkers had a greater risk for dementia and cognitive impairment than light drinkers. Again, it seems that drinking no-alcohol is associated with risk factors and outcomes that are not as ideal as moderate consumption and somewhat similar to heavy drinking.

Counselor Magazine Blog- Everyone loves watching a good and inspirational movie from time to time. The new movie “Country Strong” deals with many issues that everyday individuals face such as alcoholism, mental illness, co-dependency, ageism, and grief. These are elements that a person goes through when they are dealing with alcoholism. The movie depicts that alcoholism is a family disease and does not affect just the alcoholic. Another great point that the movie shows is that if there are underlying issues that are often not resolved that relapse is very common.

Prescription Drug abuse and death

Reuters- A new study has found that an increasing amount of individuals are dying from abusing and misusing prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs. In recent times deaths from “accidental poisonings” or overdose are more than ten times higher than they were in the late 1960s. This increase in drug deaths is higher across almost all age groups than it was in previous decades, especially amongst white Americans.

Chicago Sun Times- Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in our country, and deaths from unintentional drug overdoses in the US have increased five-fold over the last two decades. The drugs that are commonly causing these deaths are particularly painkillers such as OxyContin (oxycodone), Vicodin (hydrocodone) and fentanyl. What many individuals do not realize is prescription drugs can be much more deadly than illegal drugs. In 2007 alone, abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. Prescription painkillers, most of which are opioids, are synthetic versions of opium used to relieve moderate to severe chronic pain, however in large and excessive quantities, they can suppress a person’s ability to breathe and are very dangerous when they are mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

NIDA and ONDCP – American policy on addiction research

At this year’s College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) Annual Meeting, I got to hear, and talk to, some of the most influential players in the American addiction research field. Here are a few highlights from their talks and our discussion:

Dr. Nora Volkow of NIDA talked about a shift from Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS), which have been the most recent popular advance in genetics addiction research and into more Deep Sequencing work. The hope is that this will allow us to begin untangling some of the GWAS findings that have seemed counter-intutitive or puzzling. Deep sequencing should let us see what genes really are associated with addiction specifically, not just as markers.

Dr. Volkow also brought up the numerous issues of medications for addictions including the Nabi Nicotine Vaccine, Vivitrol (a Nalexone depot that helps opiate users who wouldn’t take it otherwise), and a host of new medications that are being developed or considered. An interesting idea here was the use of drug combinations which are showing great promise in providing enhanced treatment results (similar to HIV treatment that benefited greatly from drug cocktails). These include combining vernicline and bupropion for smoking and naltrexone and buprenorphine for cocaine (that’s not a type even though both have been typically thought of for opiate addicts).

Dr. Tom McLellan, who I personally believe is one of the most informed and thoughtful people we have when it comes to addiction research in this country, talked about our need to expand the reach of treatment to the drug abuse earlier in the problem cycle. While about 25 million people are considered drug addicts in this country, more than 65 million are drug abusers. By finding ways to reach those people in primary care (as in doctor offices) settings before they develop the full blown addiction we’re used to talking about we can do better. He also mentioned the idea of anonymity in recovery playing a role in the continued stigmatization of addiction, a topic I’ve written about recently.

Stay on the lookout for more amazing new addiction research knowledge!

Talking to NIDA about addiction research- Nicotine, cocaine, treatment matching and more

It’s not everyday that I get an invite to speak with NIDA‘s director, Dr. Nora Volkow, and so, even though it required my creative use of some VOIP technology from a living room in Tel-Aviv, I logged onto a conference call led by the leading addiction researcher. When my colleagues, Dirk Hanson and Elizabeth Hartney, were introduced, I knew I was in good company.

Addiction research directions the NIDA way

The call focused on some NIDA interests, including a nicotine vaccine, which Dr. Volkow seemed confident will triumphantly exit phase 3 trials in less than two years and potentially enter the market after FDA approval in three years or less. The vaccine, which seems to significantly and effectively increase the production of nicotine antibodies in approximately 30% of research participants, has shown promise as a tool for smoking cessation in trials showing complete cessation, or significant reduction in smoking among participants that produced sufficient antibodies. Obviously, this leaves a large gap for the 70% of participants for which the vaccine was not effective, but a good treatment for some is much better than no treatment for all. For more on the vaccine, check out Mr. Hanson’s post here.

Aside from the nicotine vaccine (and on a similarly conceived cocaine vaccine), our conversation centered on issues relevant to the suggested new DSM-5 alterations in addiction-related classifications. Dr. Volkow expressed satisfaction at the removal of dependence from the title of addictive disorders, especially as physical dependence is often part of opiate administration for patients (especially pain patients) who are in no way addicted to the drugs. Dr. Volkow also noted that while physical dependence in relatively easy to treat, addiction is not, a matter that was made all the more confusing by the ill-conceived (in her opinion, and in mine) term. Additionally, the inclusion of severity ratings in the new definition, allowing for a more nuanced, spectrum-like, assessment of addiction disorders, seemed to make Dr. Volkow happy in her own, reserved, way.

Treatment matching – rehab search for the 21st century

As most of my readers know, one of my recent interests centers on the application of current technology to the problem of finding appropriate treatment for suffering addicts. I brought the problem up during this talk, and Dr. Volkow seemed to agree with my assessment that the current tools available are nowhere near adequate given our technological advancements. I talked a bit about our upcoming addiction-treatment-matching tool, and I hope that NIDA will join us in testing the utility of the tool once we’re up and running. I truly believe that this tool alone will allow more people to find appropriate treatment increasing the success rate while maximizing our system’s ability to treat addicts.

Involving the greater public in addiction research

It wasn’t until the end of the conversation that I truly understood the reason for the invitation (I’m slow when it comes to promotional issues) – NIDA is looking to move the discussion about it’s goals and directions out of the academic darkness in which they’ve lurked for years, and into the light of online discussion. I’m in no way offended by this, especially since this was exactly my point in starting All About Addiction in the first place. If anything, I’m honored to be included in the select group of people NIDA has chose to carry their message, especially since the conversation was an open, respectful, and data-centered one. I hope more of these will occur in the future.

Resolving confusion about addiction

One of the final points we got to discuss in the too-short hour we had Dr. Volkow on the “phone” had to do with the oft misunderstood concept of physical versus psychological addictions. I’ve written about this misconception in the past, and so I won’t belabor the point here, but it’s time that we gave our brain the respect it deserves by allowing it to join the rank, along with the rest of our body, and the physical realm. We’re no longer ignorant of the fact that our personalities, memories, feelings, and thoughts are driven by nothing more than truly physical, if miniature, happenings in our brains. In the same way that microbe discovery improved our well-being (thank you Pasteur), it’s time the concept of the very physical nature of our psychological-being improves our own conceptualization of our selves.

We are physical, spiritual, and awesome, but only if we recognize what it is that makes “us.”

Nicotine vaccine? It seems addicts would love one!

Okay, so there’s no vaccine for nicotine yet, but if researchers ever find one (like they did for cocaine), this recent study by a group at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that smokers are ready and willing. In fact, more than half of them were biting at the bit!

In case you’re wondering (and don’t feel like reading), the vaccine would work by producing nicotine antibodies in the vaccinated individuals. Those antibodies would attach to any nicotine in the blood and prevent it from doing its thing (binding to nicotinic Ach receptors) thereby making smoking, well… boring. Hopefully, when smokers stop feeling the effect, they’ll stop smoking. Or that’s the thinking behind the whole idea anyway. Given other research that shows that nicotine smoking leads to some pretty strong contextual associations (read: “the environment and other associated stimuli become very rewarding”), I doubt whether the vaccine would work as well as people hope.

But, at least smokers seem willing to try it!