Gallo Research Center studies cause and treatment of alcohol, drug addiction

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Wed Aug 10 22:10:05 EDT 2005

Gallo Research Center studies cause and treatment of alcohol, drug

Gallo Research Center studies cause and treatment of alcohol, drug

Chip Power
California Staff Writer

With more than 4,600 employees, the Modesto-based Gallo company and its
brand lineup extends into 90 countries, making it one of the largest
wine companies in the United States.

Less visible, perhaps, is its longtime association with addiction
research at the University of San Francisco

The Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center was established in 1980 to
study basic neuroscience and the effects of alcohol and drug abuse on
the brain. And, according to its scientists, it is the only center
studying alcoholism in the United States that is based in a department
of neurology.

In the 20 years since it began, the center has swelled to a staff of
more than 150 and occupies nearly 77,000-square-feet of office space in
Emeryville, Calif.

The center’s stated goals:

n To understand the cellular, molecular, and behavioral basis of
alcoholism, alcohol abuse and drug abuse. 

n To develop cellular, molecular, and behavioral technologies to
identify alcoholics and individuals at risk because of genetic

n To use advances in cellular, molecular, and behavioral neuroscience
and genetics to develop new therapies.

Earlier this year, one of its studies showed that a controversial drug
acted on brain protein to cut alcohol use.

A naturally occurring hallucinogen advocated by some clinicians as a
potent anti-addiction drug was studied, confirming its ability to block
alcohol craving in rodents, and clarifying how it works in the brain,
the university said.

The new research findings about the drug Ibogaine open the way for
development of other drugs to reverse addiction without Ibogaine’s side
effects, researchers said.

Derived from a West African shrub, Ibogaine has been championed for
years by some clinicians and drug-treatment advocates impressed with
its ability to reverse withdrawal symptoms and craving for alcohol and
various drugs of abuse. It has been used by American and other
clinicians outside the United States to treat addiction. But its side
effects, including hallucinations, which made it popular in the 1960s
drug culture, and evidence of toxicity to certain nerve cells in rodent
studies have discouraged studies of its clinical potential against drug
and alcohol addiction.

The FDA has not approved use of Ibogaine in the U.S.

Scientists at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center said they
have shown definitively, in experiments with mice and rats, that
Ibogaine does reduce alcohol consumption, doing so by increasing the
level of a brain protein known as GDNF.

“By identifying the brain protein that Ibogaine regulates to reduce
alcohol consumption in rats, we have established a link between GDNF
and reversal of addiction – knowledge of a molecular mechanism that
should allow development of a new class of drugs to treat addiction
without Ibogaine’s side effects,” said Dorit Ron, PhD, UCSF associate
professor of neurology and also principal investigator at the Gallo

“If we can alter the GDNF pathway, we may well have a new treatment
against alcohol and drug addiction without the unwanted side effects of
Ibogaine,” Ron said.

The research was published in the Jan. 19 issue of “The Journal of

Ron is co-senior author of the paper with Patricia Janak, PhD, UCSF
assistant professor of neurology and also principal investigator at the
Gallo Center.

The research also showed that Ibogaine was quite effective in
preventing relapse, or “falling off the wagon” – the vulnerability of
recovered alcoholics or addicts to return to uncontrolled drinking or
drug use when exposed to the drug of abuse months or even years after
breaking the habit.

The researchers provided alcohol to rats until they had become
“experienced” daily drinkers. They then withheld alcohol for two weeks,
which normally leads to greatly increased drinking when alcohol is
again available. When they administered Ibogaine, they found that the
heightened craving and consumption was significantly reduced.

The research was supported by funds provided by the State of California
through UCSF for medical research on alcohol and substance abuse, and
by the Department of Defense, the university said.

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