Chilean doctors pioneer vaccine for alcoholism

Universidad de Chile’s Dr. Juan Asenjo unveiled a vaccine for alcoholism that will be tested on mice in February, then humans come November.

Chilean doctors are spearheading efforts towards the creation of a vaccine for alcoholism that will enter clinical trials this month. Headed by Dr. Juan Asenjo, director of the Institute for Cell Dynamics and Biotechnology at the Santiago-based Universidad de Chile, the team of doctors are excited about the discovery of what could tentatively be called a cure for alcoholism.

Funded by Chile’s Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT), the team of doctors engineered a vaccine that would genetically modify a person’s way of metabolizing alcohol.

The vaccine would freeze the liver’s ability to break down alcohol, causing those inoculated to experience debilitating hangovers, and hopefully discouraging them from drinking in the future.

“If it works, it’s going to have a worldwide impact, but with many vaccines one has to test them carefully,” Asenjo told The Santiago Times. “I think the chances that this one will work are quite high.”

According to Asenjo, the team’s inspiration for the vaccine comes from a genetic mutation that occurs among Asian populations.

“People who are Japanese, Chinese or Korean and have this mutation – Let’s say 15 to 20 percent of the population,” Asenjo explained. “They don’t touch alcohol, and that’s because they feel bad with the vomit and the nausea.”

Starting this month, the team will begin testing the vaccine on mice in order to properly calculate dosages. Come November, the first human clinical trials are scheduled in India. According to Asenjo, if the trials go well the vaccine could be on the market in as little as two years.

One of the world’s most commonplace yet devastating woes, the World Health organization estimates that in 2001, 140 million of the world’s inhabitants suffered from alcoholism.

“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. “But if we can solve the chemical, the basic part of the problem, I think it could help quite a bit.”