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New Treatment Could Curb Alcohol Abuse

In their research, Saint Joseph’s Asha Suryanarayanan, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and doctoral candidate Steven Decker discovered a potentially groundbreaking compound that was found to limit alcohol intake in laboratory rats.
Green and brown beer bottles
Written by: Alex Hargrave ’20 Total reading time: 2 minutes

Research by a Saint Joseph’s University professor and PhD candidate could eventually help people curb their alcohol intake. 

Steven Decker, a doctoral candidate in the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, recently published a study about the drug compound Desformylflustrabromine (dFBr) and its potential applications. His research builds on that of other students who have studied with Asha Suryanarayanan, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, who discovered a novel use for dFBr.

Decker says that he was interested in studying this compound and how it can play a role in reducing alcohol dependence because alcohol abuse is such a prevalent part of life – especially considering there are not many practical pharmaceutical treatments that exist for alcoholism. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 15 million adults suffer from alcohol use disorder. Of those, less than 10% receive treatment. 

“Some people are more prone to addiction,” he says. “You can go from just drinking on occasions, maybe you drink a glass of wine with dinner, and then you're drinking a glass of wine with every dinner and then you're drinking two glasses, a bottle.”

Decker and Suryanarayanan used an intermittent two-bottle choice study, meaning the rats used in the experiment had the choice of drinking from a bottle with water or a bottle with alcohol. This is a well-studied animal model that emulates voluntary alcohol consumption in humans. In the beginning, Suryanarayanan says, rats don’t like the taste of alcohol, so they add sweetener for a few days to get them to drink it. 

After eight weeks, the rats voluntarily consumed alcohol, Suryanarayanan says. Then, she and Decker injected them with dFBr, and from there, measured how much alcohol they drank by weighing the bottles.

Decker and Suryanarayanan reported two major findings: Both males and females showed reduced alcohol consumption when injected with dFBr, and females drink less alcohol to begin with. Both are excited about the findings; however, this is only a start. The drinking habits of the rats used in the study mimic those of social drinkers.

“The idea would be to test this drug again on a model where the rats are drinking much more,” says Suryanarayanan. She’s hopeful to get funding for the study, which could potentially help those who abuse alcohol.