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Cancer drug could turn problem drinkers off alcohol

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Drugs normally used to block a protein linked to cancer development could become vital in the fight against alcohol addiction, it has been claimed.

Scientists from the University of California at San Francisco have been looking into a fly gene known to affect animals’ sensitivity to alcohol.

The ‘happyhour’ gene does this by blocking the action of epidermal growth factor, a protein that stimulates cell growth and is best known for its role in cancer.

Certain drugs, including two approved for use against lung cancer called Tarceva and Iressa, do the same thing.

The study, reported in the journal Cell, reveals that mice and rats treated with Tarceva grow more sensitive to alcohol. Rats given the cancer drug spontaneously consumed less alcohol when it was freely available to them. But their taste for another enjoyable drink, sugared water, was unaffected.

Dr Ulrike Heberlein said: ‘This is a very powerful example of how simple model organisms - and the little fruit fly in particular - can be used to move quickly from an unknown gene to a potential therapy for drug addiction.’

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