alcohol intoxication
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Scientists in the US and China developed a hepatocyte-mimicking antidote for the treatment of alcohol intoxication.

People consume alcoholic drinks in enormous amount worldwide. Many Canadians associate drinking with social activities such as watching sports, parties, and celebrations. According to the statistics published by the Health Canada, more than 4 million Canadians are heavy alcohol drinkers with a high risk for long-term negative health effects.

Drinking more alcohol than the body can handle may cause alcohol intoxication. When we drink alcohol, alcohol is oxidized to acetaldehyde and acetate. Alcohol intoxication occurs when alcohol and its metabolites build up in the blood faster than they can be metabolized by the liver. To date, there is a lack of an effective antidote for treating alcohol intoxication.

The metabolism of alcohol mainly relies on an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). Inspired by this, a group of scientists from the United States and China developed an antidote that mimics a liver cell. The research was funded by a grant from the US National Institutes of Health, and the scientists recently published their results in Advanced Materials.

Breaking apart the alcohol molecule

Through a process called in-situ polymerization, the researchers successfully enclosed two important catalysts of alcohol oxidase (AOx) and catalase (CAT) in a capsule to promote the rate of alcohol metabolism.

Through the co-delivery of the capsules to the liver, the encapsulated enzymes help break apart the alcohol molecule, making it possible to eliminate the alcohol molecule from the body. First, AOx and CAT metabolize alcohol to acetaldehyde. Then, acetaldehyde is further metabolized down to less active byproduct called acetate. Finally, acetate is broken down into water and carbon dioxide for easy elimination.

The scientists evaluated the efficiency of the nanocapsules as an antidote in mice that were intoxicated with alcohol. The mice were fed with 30% alcohol in normal saline and injected with 50 μg of AOx/CAT and 0.5 mg of ALDH.

They found that the antidote rapidly built up in the liver and enabled a significant reduction of alcohol concentration in the blood. More surprisingly, the concentration of alcohol breakdown was maintained at an extremely low level, significantly contributing to liver protection.

This newly developed antidote could provide profound therapeutic benefits to alcohol-intoxicated patients. It has potential to be the future method of choice for rescuing lives in emergency rooms.

Written by Man-tik Choy, Ph.D

Reference: Xu, D. et al. 2018. A Hepatocyte-Mimicking Antidote for Alcohol Intoxication. Advanced Materials, 1707443. DOI 10.1002/adma.201707443.

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