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Scripps Research scientists awarded $2.2 million to develop treatment for multi-drug addiction

The Scripps Research Institute has been awarded a $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of addiction to multiple substances in a national effort with the University of Kansas.

The total award is for $3,698,130, with the Florida campus of Scripps Research receiving $2.19 million over five years and the University of Kansas receiving approximately $1.5 million.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2009 an estimated 21.8 million Americans aged 12 or older had used illicit drugs within the last month, approximately 8.7 percent of the population aged 12 or older, an increase over 2008. Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, and prescription-type psychotherapeutics used nonmedically. Multiple drug use is common among substance abusers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The grant funds research directed by Scripps Research Associate Professor Laura Bohn to develop new compounds targeting a specific receptor playing a critical role in the persistence of compulsive drug seeking and taking. (Receptors bind substances, triggering certain biological effects.)

"All addictive drugs share certain reinforcing properties that make it difficult to quit and remain abstinent," said Bohn. "There is significant evidence spanning decades that the kappa opioid receptor is a good candidate in terms of disrupting this addictive cycle. Right now we're in the early stages of R&D but we have a lot of confidence in what we've studied so far."

The kappa opioid receptor, which is located on neurons, helps regulate the release of dopamine a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in drug addiction. Drugs of abuse often cause the brain to release large amounts of dopamine, flooding the brain's reward system and reinforcing the addictive cycle.

The basis of the studies proposed in the current award results from years of screening by the Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network supported by the NIH. After screening more than 300,000 small molecule compounds, the group, along with the specialized chemistry center at the University of Kansas, identified five novel chemical candidates for clinical development.

For the next five years, the collaborative research team at Scripps Research and the University of Kansas will work to improve selectivity, potency, efficacy, and bioavailability of these compounds to provide a strong preclinical framework for clinical utilization of new drugs targeting the kappa opioid receptor in the hopes of finding a way to help improve recovery from a variety of addictive drugs.


Contact: Mika Ono
Scripps Research Institute

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