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The protein, known as cocaine esterase, is a naturally occurring bacterial enzyme. It breaks down cocaine, which is thought to make cocaine less addictive, but it doesn't last for long in the body.
In a new study, published online Jan. 2 in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, researchers report that they're moving toward a possible solution through the development of a longer-lasting version of the protein. In rats, it lessened the desire for cocaine and prevented the rodents from dying of overdoses.
The researchers tested the protein by allowing rats to give themselves cocaine by pressing a button; they did so less often when they were treated with the longer-lasting version of the protein.
"These therapeutic approaches may not be 'fail-safe' for reducing cocaine intake by determined users," Friedbert Weiss, of Faculty of 1000 Medicine, said in a news release.
But the long-acting forms of the protein "represent potentially valuable treatment approaches not only for the prevention of cocaine-induced toxicity but also for ongoing cocaine abuse in humans," said Weiss, who reviewed the research.
-- Randy Dotinga
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SOURCE: Faculty of 1000: Biology and Medicine, press release, Jan. 2, 2010