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X-Men therapy curbs lager-swilling rodent lifestyle

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Scientists based in Chile and Colorado have carried out astonishing research which appears to offer a cure for that scourge of modern society - alcoholism in rats.

In a paper to be published in the January edition of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, Yedy Israel of the Universidad de Chile and Richard Deitrich of the University of Colorado reveal their findings. Most significant of these is that:

"Intravenous administration of an anti-Aldh2 anti-sense gene can curtail long-term drinking among rodents."

Rather than scouring city centres for boozed-up rat volunteers desperate to be saved from themselves, Israel and Deitrich took a perhaps more ethically questionable path. Obtaining a group of rats which "had been bred as heavy alcohol drinkers", the scientists deliberately lushed them up over a long period, standing endless rounds of beer.

The thirsty rodents were apparently "further rendered alcohol dependent through a two-month period of unlimited, voluntary intake of the equivalent of premium beer, followed by withdrawal, followed by a one-hour 'happy hour' each day", according to the scientists.

"During this hour the animals drank 10 times more alcohol than what is normally consumed," added the boffins (By alcoholic rats?).

But then the squiffy vermin were put onto a particularly cruel temperance regime, in which they were injected with "anti-sense gene therapy".

This works by suppressing the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase-2, which is "needed to eliminate products of alcohol metabolism". It seems that some East Asian humans naturally have a genetic mutation with similar effects, which is what put Israel and Deitrich on the track in the first place.

Without one's trusty aldehyde dehydrogenase-2, drinking alcohol becomes a very unpleasant experience. When the luckless East Asian sufferers take a tipple, according to Israel, "they experience nausea, facial redness and a pounding heart".

Prof Israel - clearly a the-glass-is-half-full kind of guy, in a way - describes this crippling disability as positive, saying that the hapless East Asian human mutants "are 66 to 99 per cent protected against alcoholism".

All the same, it's not the kind of superpower you'd really boast about at Dr Xavier's X-Men style special school for mutants, we submit. ("What's your power, new kid? I can shoot laser beams out of my eyes" "Oh, I get nausea, facial redness and a pounding heart when I drink alcohol.")

In any case, despite having been temporarily artificially mutated to suppress their enzymes, the thirsty rats still managed to put away a good deal of booze. Despite presumably suffering badly from puking, palpitations and under-fur redness, they only reduced their consumption by half; thus, if we understand correctly, still downing five times as much booze as an everyday rat furnished with infinite supplies of free premium lager.

Again, the boffins put a positive spin on this, suggesting that gene anti-sense would be just the ticket for letting an alcoholic become a normal boozer again rather than having to go fully teetotal.

"This would appear to have implications for a social-drinking pattern, and the notion of 'harm reduction', where full abstinence is not the only acceptable goal," said Israel.

That said, the notion of desperate, scarlet-faced, chundering boozers continuing to force down lager until their tickers hit the redline seems rather unappealing in many ways.

However, all is not lost.

"These findings are a long way from being applied to humans," said Deitrich.

The press release can be read here. ®

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