A drug, used for obese and type 2 diabetic patients, can be used to treat cocaine dependence. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing and Perelman School of Medicine say that the FDA-approved drug named Byetta may soon be available, giving cocaine addicts a wider treatment option.

The drug is derived from a hormone that regulates feeding behaviour known as glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1. A previous study, also conducted by this study’s Matthew Hayes, has found that this hormone regulates palatable food intake. The researcher believed that the same results can be attained in cocaine use.

The new study found out that activating GLP-1 receptors in the ventral tegmental area or VTA, the part of the brain that deals with rewarding behaviour of the rats, consumed less cocaine. Apparently, this is the first time that demonstrated how the hormone did this task in the brain.

The GLP-1 in the animals’ brain acts similarly with the human brains so the researchers enabled the rats to administer cocaine by themselves through intravenous infusion, in the same way a person would, rather than injecting the cocaine directly on their bodies. The researchers introduced the GLP-1 receptor agonist directly into the animals’ brain when they got used to their cocaine regimen.

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The researchers note that no human trials have been done. However, they believe that approving the use of Byetta for cocaine addiction treatment would be near. Additionally, Byetta is already approved by FDA and all of its side effects are known and deemed safe to use.

Nevertheless, the research team understand that setting up the human clinical trials takes time. The team plans to further understand the path that GLP-1 follows in the brain.

“That gets into a systems neuroscience approach, into the circuitry underlying the behaviour,” says researcher Heath Schmidt. “It’s really provocative … We talk about the VTA and the reward circuit that drives cocaine taking. But there’s also this pathway that cocaine is activating that’s functioning as a ‘brake’ to try and stop or reduce the behaviour.”