Ever since the discovery of alcohol, humanity has searched far and wide for a way to deal with its effects. With the option of "just not drinking" ruled out by most doctors, chefs, and college students have devoted themselves to finding the perfect formula to tackle the symptoms that set in the morning after. Now, a team of three scientists believe they may be on the verge of a breakthrough after apparently curing the condition in a number of mice.
To develop what they refer to as the antidote, Yunfeng Lu, a professor of chemical engineering at UCLA, and his grad student Duo Xu teamed up with liver-disease expert Cheng Ji, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Hoping to find a cheap, effective, and safe way of counteracting the negative effects of alcohol, the team decided to experiment with natural enzymes that break it down.
Although these enzymes have been known to science for some time, the challenge faced by the scientists was to figure out a way to get them into the liver safely and easily. To do this, they created nanocapsules using an FDA-approved material that is used in the production of pills. These were then injected into a group of drunk mice, while a second control group of drunk mice were left to digest the alcohol naturally.
After four hours, the blood alcohol level of the injected mice was almost half that of the control group, who also took longer to wake up after falling asleep. More importantly, their levels of acetaldehyde were significantly lower than the other mice. Acetaldehyde is a toxic compound created when alcohol is broken down. In small doses, our bodies can attack it with an antioxidant called glutathione, but when large amounts of alcohol are consumed, we create more acetaldehyde than we can deal with, which leads to headaches, vomiting, and redness of the skin. In other words, acetaldehyde is the hangover.
By providing the body with extra enzymes, we can both increase the rate at which we process alcohol, and prevent the build-up of acetaldehyde. This means we will sober up faster, and feel better when we do. The next step in the process is to make sure there are no unintended consequences to providing the body with these extra enzymes. If not, Professor Lu believes human trials could begin within a year.
Even if there are no biological or chemical side-effects, we should not forget the potential social impact of a pill that allows us to drink more without consequence. Imagine a world where people could drink twice as much without having to worry about spending the next day hunched over a toilet. Humanity has chased this dream since the dawn of drinking, but it may end up proving to be a poison chalice.
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