I really enjoyed hearing everyone’s story of their ongoing scientific journey this past week and was able to gain a better glimpse into the multifaceted world of biology. But in light of the one of the most dire epidemics in America–the opioid crisis–I thought that John’s project was particularly inspiring and relevant. The current state of dealing with this issue in our country is at best tenuous: 11.4 million people have misused prescription opioids, and more than 130 have died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses (NCHS). In response to this, instead of developing a drug to tackle a certain disease, John is developing a drug to tackle a phenomenon that has often received less and much needed attention: addiction. I thought John’s question of whether or not certain drugs can be developed to curb addiction to pain-relieving drugs was both innovative and compelling, with far-reaching potential in helping a wide array of people.
In investigating his hypothesis, John’s goes about in a well-founded scientific manner. Rats are placed into a skinner box, in which they are trained to press a lever that then triggers an intravenous injection with a powerful synthetic opioid called Remi-fentanyl. To test the efficacy of anti-addiction drugs, the behavior of addicted rats previously injected with opioid are compared with control rats injected with saline. If the addicted rats exhibit less of a need for Remi-fentanyl after being administered with the drug that John is trying to develop, then it could have potential to fight off addiction and the opioid crisis. This experimental process I thought was a simple, yet effective strategy in isolating the effects of anti-addiction drugs. With an interesting and robust experimental set-up, I have become really curious as to how drugs are chosen to be tested and what types of drugs have already been shown to have some desired effect.
As I reflect more on John’s exciting and intriguing project, a plethora of questions flood my mind in regards to the implications of this work. On the most basic level, I am wondering about the mechanistic pathways of these drugs. Even if these drugs suppresses a mental urge for opioids, can it also eliminate a physical dependence on these drugs that develops in addicted patients? On a similar note, these drugs have a very noble goal in mitigating addiction in order to help people, but how can they be administered if certain patients resist in receiving these drugs, especially if this anti-addiction drug isn’t able to provide nearly as many relieving effects as opioids? Furthermore, opioid addiction is caused by increased tolerance, but could these anti-addiction drugs have problems with tolerance and resistance themselves? I’m sure many of these questions will be answered and addressed if this project progresses into the drug development process, and I am definitely excited to be there for that and to hear more about it.