Could a nasal spray deliver a novel gene therapy that stops opioid cravings and reduces relapse?

Opioid use disorder kills tens of thousands of Americans a year, upends the lives of many more and is notoriously difficult to treat.

Could help come in the form of a nasal spray that delivers a novel gene therapy?

Northeastern pharmaceutical sciences professor Barbara L. Waszczak says preliminary research shows the approach may stop drug cravings that lead to relapse and end up saving lives.

03/17/23 – BOSTON, MA. – Barbara Waszczak, professor department of pharmaceutical sciences, poses for a portrait on March 17, 2023. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Waszczak and collaborators recently received the second installment of a nearly $7 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop a treatment that would use an intranasal route to transport nanoparticle therapy directly to the brain to restore dopamine transmitters.

Dopamine neurons play a role in experiencing and remembering pleasure, making it an important part of the brain’s reward circuitry, says Waszczak, a principal investigator in the study.

But when dopamine is released frequently due to chronic drug use, the neurons get overtaxed, she says.

“After you have got to the point where you are addicted, you have depleted the dopamine stores in your brain in this reward circuit,” Waszczak says.

“There’s not enough left to sustain normal function. You feel terrible. You can’t experience pleasure.  You continue to feel intense craving for the drug.”

“Our treatment is to try and get the dopamine cells to recover so people have enough dopamine to sustain normal function by reducing cravings and the risk of relapse,” Waszczak says.

“It would basically reset the reward system so it’s normal again.”

Waszczak says Northeastern University and Copernicus Therapeutics Inc. hold a joint patent on technology she developed that would use an intranasal route to deliver the therapeutic treatment directly to the brain.

Continue reading at Northeastern Global News.