First alcoholism vaccine undergoes preclinical trial in Chile

Scientists at the University of Chile plan to conduct a preclinical trial in February for the world's first alcoholism vaccine, which could be an important first step toward curing the crippling disease.

The researchers will use mice to determine dosing followed by a human trial in November. Juan Asenjo, the director of the university's Institute for Cell Dynamics and Biotechnology, said that while the vaccine is not a cure-all, it could solve the chemical aspect of the condition, the Santiago Times reports.

"People who end up alcoholic have a social problem; a personality problem because they're shy, whatever, and then they are depressed, so it's not so simple," Asenjo said, according to the Santiago Times. "But if we can solve the chemical, the basic part of the problem, I think it could help quite a bit."

After the preclinical trial, the vaccine will be tested in a Phase I trial in India with humans. Asenjo said that if all goes well, the vaccine could be available as soon as two years from now.

In a normal human body, the liver turns alcohol into acetaldehyde, a compound that causes hangovers. An enzyme that metabolizes alcohol then breaks the compounds down.

The vaccine would work for six months to a year by using an RNA compound that tells the liver not to express genes that metabolize alcohol. The vaccine increases the effects of hangovers to discourage consumption.

Asenjo acknowledged that a vaccine will not fix the mental challenges that affect addicts, the Santiago Times reports.

"I had a friend," Asenjo said, according to the Santiago Times. "He quit drinking. Then he became a terrible smoker. He was connected to an oxygen tank for two months to keep him alive. A person needs to confront themselves."