Scientists have not only identified a critical gene involved in heroin addiction relapse, but they have also successfully blocked it, eliminating cravings for the drug.

The study was conducted on heroin-addicted rats. But the researchers now think that, within a few years, better treatments will become available to human heroin users who cannot quit due to insidious cycles of relapse.

“Many people try to stop taking heroin, but in a few months almost all of them go back to using the drug,” said Ivan Diamond, at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center in California, US, and one of the research team.

David Shurtleff, director of the Division of Basic Neuroscience and Behavioral Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Maryland, US, is encouraged by the research. “It will take creativity and additional research to translate this into usable therapies, but it does provide hope that we will be able to prevent compulsive drug seeking behaviour,” he told New Scientist.

By Jennifer Viegas

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