Drunk mice wake hangover free, but medicos wary of alcohol ‘antidote’

By NELLIE O’SHEA CARRE

Scientists in the US have caused a stir with claims that human trials for a hangover cure pill may begin in the next year, but Australian experts are sceptical. 

UCLA chemical engineering Professor Yunfeng Lu announced that he was developing a pill that could be used to treat overdose victims in the ER and minimise liver damage caused by alcohol.

However, emergency medicine specialist and 2016 Senior Australian of the Year  (AO) Professor Gordian Fulde said that the “pill” had only been created in injection form, and there were still “flaws” in the research.

“I think it’s a terribly long shot that it will be of any great use to the medical profession,” said Prof Fulde. 

“The cost to risk benefit of this technology is still miles away from being worked out, and of being any use to human beings. I could drone on for a couple of hours about all the things that would need to be checked out before I would even give it to mice, or pets.”

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Professor Gordian Fulde is named Senior Australian of the Year. 

The medication uses a combination of three enzymes to speed up the breakdown of alcohol within the liver. 

Professor Lu said his aim was to design an alcohol “antidote”.

It “could help people enjoy wine or cocktails or beer without a hangover, and at the same time create a lifesaving therapy to treat intoxication and overdose victims in the ER. I chose to create capsules filled with natural enzymes usually found in liver cells to help the body process the alcohol faster, ” he said.

He said the medication had been tested on mice, with the effect of clearing the alcohol from their system faster, and reducing the amount of highly toxic acetaldehyde in the blood, a substance that causes vomiting, headaches and blushing, and is also a known carcinogen. 

Prof Fulde said allowing people to sober up naturally avoided “complications” that medication like this would involve.

“When you put something into bodies, the body’s enzymes … switch off and that can cause other problems,” Prof Fulde said.

“There’s this untold amount of problems that could arise downstream in human use of this therapy.

“Intravenous injections, for somebody who is drunk, is a big step, when there are much simpler things, like don’t get drunk in the first place. For people who are really in trouble … the damage has already been done.”

Ken Harvey

Public health expert  Ken Harvey, who is Associate Professor in Monash’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, said it was “far too early” to consider whether the medication should be made available to the general public to purchase.

“University PR departments love putting out speculative and premature press releases,” he said.

“More years will pass before we know whether this could be a useful drug for humans.”

Assoc Prof Harvey also warned of the dangers of allowing people to drink more “without suffering ill effects”.

“Many people drink for the benefits intoxication provides, such as disinhibition, euphoria and retreating from worry and life’s difficulties,” he said.

“A pill that metabolised alcohol faster would mean that you have drink more to get the desired effects. Who wants that?”