What can you do with a drunken mouse?

Researchers have reduced blood alcohol levels in intoxicated mice by injecting them with nanocapsules containing enzymes that are instrumental in alcohol metabolism. The treatment demonstrates a novel drug delivery technology that could have broad medical applications.

The new research…described in Nature Nanotechnology…involves packaging multiple enzymes inside a nanoscale shell. The resulting functional enzyme complex, made of a nontoxic polymer, “almost mimics an organelle,” says Yunfeng Lu, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UCLA, who lead the research with Cheng Ji, a professor of biochemical and molecular biology at the University of Southern California. The capsule stabilizes the proteins and protects them against degrading in the body…

The advance could open the door to a new class of enzyme drugs, says Lu. Down the road, for example, he envisions an alcohol prophylactic or antidote that could be taken orally. Since alcohol metabolism naturally occurs in the liver, it would “almost be like having millions of liver cell units inside your stomach or in your intestine, helping you to digest alcohol,” he says.

The group is also developing other drugs based on the encapsulation method. For example, it is working with the pharmaceutical company Kythera on a hair-loss prevention drug that would rely on nanocapsules to deliver—through the skin—an enzyme that breaks down dihydrotestosterone (commonly called DHT), which causes male pattern baldness.

I’m certain we all can think of a number of useful goals for this technology. I’m equally certain that some portions of the pharmaceuticals industry will concentrate their efforts on the greatest possible short-term profits based on human vanity.

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