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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Researchers working on cure for those wild weekends

The dreaded hangover — the punishment of a night out for college students. With the headache, nausea and sensitivity to light, it will ruin your next day and make you regret everything when you have three midterms and a lab report due that week.

What causes a hangover in the first place?

“[It is a] combination of factors including too much alcohol, which is a toxin and is metabolized to even more toxic substances, like acetaldehyde, that must be further metabolized and excreted to prevent further toxicity,” said Thomas J. Ferguson, the Medical Director at the UC Davis Student Health and Wellness Center. “The most important factor is to avoid ingestion of too much alcohol.”

UC Davis brewing professor Charles Bamforth has a similar opinion.

“I preach moderation and responsibility — i.e., do not get the hangover in the first place,” Bamforth said.

Dedicated partiers should not fear, for doctors have been researching a real hangover cure. Researchers at UCLA have put together two enzymes in a pill that, when tested, significantly increased the rate of alcohol metabolism in the body.

“We used two enzymes, alcohol oxidase, capable of oxidizing alcohol into acetaldehyde and hydrogen peroxide, and catalase, capable of decomposing toxic hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen,” said Yunfeng Lu, professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UCLA and the principal investigator for this project.

Paired together in a polymer casing, the two enzymes work as a team to help remove alcohol from your system. One enzyme will break down the alcohol while the other will complete the processes by then breaking down the hydrogen peroxide, which the first enzyme creates, to water and oxygen. These extra enzymes take the strain out of your liver and make your recovery much faster.

This product has been studied thoroughly and no side effects were reported in the researchers’ experiments. The lack of side effects is especially promising since the researchers hope to be able to use their product on humans.

“I am certain that as described, this medication would come under some pretty close scrutiny because the enzymes that metabolize alcohol may have other effects in humans. That is, they could interfere with other metabolizations and potentially place the individual at risk,” Ferguson said.

There are still some steps to go before the medication could be approved, but the researchers are already halfway there.

“The digestion of alcohol in the human body consists of two steps, from alcohol into acetaldehyde, and from acetaldehyde into acetic acid. We have developed the enzyme for the first step,” Lu said. “We are currently making the enzyme for the second step. Once this is done, we can pack the enzymes together and will have a complete solution, a product everyone can use within two years.”

Though this is a discovery on its own, Lu and his colleagues have done more than just fix your hangover. The creation of a nanocomplex of enzymes is the first step in creating solutions for a wide range of problems. The new doors being opened can potentially lead to a wide variety of “cures” for behavior-induced sickness.

KELLY MITCHELL can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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