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Headlines Published on 11 February 2005

Title EU project focuses on isolating the addiction genes

Millions of people worldwide suffer from addiction. That people are genetically predisposed to this affliction is not news. Finding out exactly which genes are to blame is, however, very big news. Until now, scientists have struggled to isolate the genetic culprit. Thanks to EU funding, a group of researchers hope to rectify this.

European research to track down the gene for addiction. © PhotoShop
European research to track down the gene for addiction.
© PhotoShop
Combining human genetics research and data with animal studies and strategies to promote specific gene-expression, a team of research organisations from six European Union countries, together with Iceland, have embarked on a major five-year investigation of the genetic roots of addiction.

Although the role of genetics in susceptibility to addiction has been recognised for some time, tracking down the guilty gene(s) has not been easy. This is because of several reasons, according to the newly formed European Integrated Project ‘Genaddict’ (Genomics, mechanisms and treatment of addiction). The condition itself varies widely and can be exacerbated by familial and environmental influences, making isolating which genes cause or contribute to addiction a huge challenge.

Addiction is broadly defined as being abnormally dependent on something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming. And they can come in many forms. Some people are addicted to a substance, such as tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal narcotics like heroin and cocaine. Others may have behavioural addictions not involving a substance per se, such as gambling, eating disorders and obsessive compulsions.

Decoding the addiction
The project, backed by €8.1 million in funding from the EU’s Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6), brings together eight leading public and private research organisations with the aim of identifying the genes involved in addiction and boosting the development of new treatments and strategies against this serious disease.

The study will combine human population genetics with powerful animal genetics and gene-expression strategies. One of the partners, Reykjavik-based pharmaceutical company deCODE genetics, is a world leader in finding genetic markers for common diseases. It will head the human genetics effort, working with Iceland’s National Centre of Addiction Medicine.

Professor Ian Kitchen of the School of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at the University of Surrey (UK), who heads the research initiative, says understanding the genetics of addiction may give new insight into its biological basis, and into the dysfunction of the addicted brain.

“This may serve as a first step towards developing treatments that can fight drug craving and relapse, instead of focusing solely on the symptoms of drug withdrawal as we do today,” he says. 

Source:  EU and University of Surrey

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More information:

  • FP6 Major Projects Library  (Life science, genomics and biotechnology for health)

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