Kathleen Ferraro/Chicago ITM
ITM Researcher Building First Treatment for Cocaine Addiction
Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine

What could be the first medical treatment for cocaine addiction is being created by Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM) researchers Ming Xu, PhD, and Xiaoyang Wu, PhD. Their research edits a patch of normal skin using an engineering technology that puts an anti-cocaine gene into skin stem cells. This system allows Xu and Wu to take a small section of skin, add the anti-cocaine gene to the skin’s cells, and then put it back onto the patient through a process called grafting, a routine procedure where a piece of skin is added onto the body.

The genetically-modified cells produce anti-cocaine proteins that enter the bloodstream and break down cocaine in a way that makes it unrewarding and nontoxic to the brain and body. And because the tool uses a routine skin grafting procedure, the process is safe, minimally invasive, and affordable.

The treatment could also scale to address other addictions, such as opioids, alcohol and cigarettes. With more than 15 million Americans suffering from alcoholism, and cigarette smoking accounting for one in every five deaths in the U.S., Xu and Wu’s treatment has the potential to help millions of patients.

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