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Letter: University of Minnesota researchers tackle addiction science

I have been following the Herald's "Hooked in the Heartland" series and read the newspaper's editorial, "Addiction science needs new terms" (Page A4, Dec. 19). I thought Herald readers might be interested to learn about important research underway at the University of Minnesota to end addiction.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are tackling addiction from these angles:

▇ Develop nonaddictive pain medications: What if we had painkilling drugs that never reached the brain? It would mean pain relief without the threat of addiction. Neuroscience professor George Wilcox's goal is to prevent addiction to analgesic drugs by restricting their action to the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system.

▇ Create painkillers that won't reach the brain: Keeping painkilling drugs out of the brain would prevent addiction. Pharmaceutics professor Carolyn Fairbanks wants to keep pain impulses and potentially addictive painkilling drugs away from the brain. That means restricting them to peripheral areas like skin and internal organs or to the spinal cord.

▇ Map the brain to predict those most likely to relapse: If we could predict which people recovering from addiction were most likely to relapse, efforts to prevent it could be more effectively directed. Psychiatry professor Kelvin Lim is out to make that possible.

▇ Find the switch that turns off addiction: An estimated 80-90 percent of people recovering from addiction relapse within a year. Neuroscience associate professor Mark Thomas is committed to finding a neural "switch" that can turn off relapse behavior. If the switch could be thrown and the signal for relapse interrupted, it would help people recovering from addiction stay abstinent.

Herald readers can find out more about the researchers' work at driven-to-discover.umn.edu/end-addiction.

Brooks Jackson

Minneapolis

Dr. Jackson is vice president for health sciences at the University of Minnesota and dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School.

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